Ten years of SDN: what’s next for broadband builders?
2021 will be the ten-year anniversary of the formation of the Open Networking Forum (ONF). This event kickstarted the software-defined networking era for access, and we’ve come a long way since then. The early forays into SDN/NFV were experimental but after a few years, more formalized cloud-native blueprints emerged from initiatives by the ONF, the Broadband Forum and the Linux Foundation.
All these initiatives are aimed to drive adoption of SDN. To speed innovation through simple software changes, breaking away from the notoriously monolithic telecommunication architectures; the ossification made it hard for operators to keep up with today’s fast-evolving demands for broadband connectivity and services.
Now, almost ten years on from the birth of SDN, I believe we’re on the cusp of the next phase. Tier 1 operators started down a path of open source projects and the disaggregation of hardware and software. While these steps were directionally correct, they were not enough: they were generally standalone initiatives with little integration, and incomplete productization. Operators are now ready to get out of the labs and are rapidly enhancing their understanding to address the more fundamental issues of ease of broadband automation, interoperability, scalability and extensibility, well beyond the capabilities of current solutions. This year we’ve seen a stronger need from operators to solicit bids and find partners to deploy carrier-grade open platforms that can automate the entire access network, enabling integration of cloud and legacy practices, without compromising on scale and openness.
Broadly, we’ve received two distinct types of operator requests, which have clearly different dynamics: network upgrades (bottom-up decision) and network automation (top-down design).
In-network upgrade projects, the primary objective is generally to deploy a new access technology or device and take advantage of that to add SDN capabilities that improve efficiency. The advantage of this approach is that SDN can be adopted in phases, allowing operators to pace their investments and expand SDN step-by-step to multiple areas over time.
In the case of automation projects, the requests do not really focus on adding new devices and services but are about how to use SDN to control and automate the existing installed base and centralize the data insights. The advantage here for operators is in getting a head start with their OSS and IT refresh, using abstraction to remove technology complexity early on, benefitting from the resulting simplified and unified operations, which make future network transformations easier to implement.
In either case, the results are hybrid environments with a mix of virtual and traditional network devices and functions. And the truth is that nearly all broadband networks are going to be hybrid environments for a very long time.
Therefore, it’s imperative that the transition path from traditional to virtual is made as simple as possible. This necessitates a single controller which can manage both traditional and virtual network functions and refactor management processes as the SDN-enabled resources in the network increases.
It’s for this reason that we’ve further developed our open and programmable Altiplano cloud platform so it can be easily tailored to any operating environment, from fully-traditional to fully-virtual, and all the combinations in between. Altiplano lets operators transition from traditional to SDN on their own terms and at their own pace, while all applications and devices are treated equally, whether they are from Nokia, 3rd parties, or open-source developed.
Learn more about how to adopt SDN in your broadband network here.