Think SDN will save you? Think again

June 2nd, 2014 by · Leave a Comment

This article was authored by John C. Tanner, and was originally posted on

Operators need unprecedented agility to survive as old business models are rendered obsolete, but while SDN technology may help them pull that transformation off, they’re kidding themselves if they think deploying SDN will be easy or simple.

That was the message from a panel of industry experts gathered in Phuket last week at a NetEvents conference to discuss telecoms transformation.

With operators facing the dilemma of relying more on data services at a time when data prices are falling faster than the rate of traffic growth (which is already growing pretty fast), business as usual is simply not an option, said Gint Atkinson, VP of network strategy at KVH.

“You’re dead meat if you keep on that dimension right there,” he said. “[Looking at] SDN, we need to do relatively real-time fast service composition, service chaining, enable new characteristics so we can bundle service components together to create new revenue packages where the cost per bit isn’t so directly critical. We’ve got to get away from selling connectivity and start selling connectivity solutions. Whatever it looks like, it better not be too concerned with cost per bit.”

Jon Vestal, product architecture VP for Pacnet Global, said that SDN will be key to getting better utilization out of existing networks.

“It allows us to decouple the kind of strict and rigid interface we have between the applications and the network today. And it allows the network to just be completely seamless in the overall delivery scheme of the enterprise. And we get better utilization of our bandwidth. We offer better service to the end customer.”

Mark Showalter, senior director of marketing communications at Infinera, added that SDN will give telcos the ability to launch new services quickly and – perhaps more importantly – fail fast.

“We can’t say in five years I’m going to have this service, that service and that service. But I do know that over the next five years I want to introduce new services, I want to try lots of them, I want to see some of them work and some of them fail and refine them,” Showalter said.

However, Atkinson warned that while SDN promises a lot, it’s a lot easier to do in a data center than it is in an operator’s WAN.

“If we just go onto optical SDN, it is amazingly simple and complete, and it delivers on the vision. But when you look at KVH, who is provisioning a service that is going to be sold to a customer and every little touch and turn of the knob is attached to a service order, that’s really different to the web-scale operators who are building out an optical network that will get stitched into their web-based service,” Atkinson said.

“They don’t have customer systems that are integrated with, for example, our orchestration systems coming in at Layer 3, Layer 2 down to Layer 0 and trying to do multilayer sliced vertical networks. They get to just cut right through all of that complexity. And they don’t need to sell connectivity, they just sell the whole thing to their customers.”

That, in turn, says a lot about the Gordian knot of legacy architectures and business models that’s holding back telcos in the first place, he added.

“We do have an awful lot of things that are slowing us down and are potentially disabling in the future. We can’t keep on operating this way. We got to go agile. We need to restructure the service packages and then we can change the architecture of the systems to be much more simplified.”

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