Software-Defined Everything

Jim Poole
Software-Defined Everything

This article originally appeared in Network World on March 14, 2018.

Digital transformation is ushering in what the organizers of this year’s Pacific Telecommunications Council’s (PTC) 2018 global conference called “a new decade of connections.” The global trends driving digital include greater technology use, urbanization, data sovereignty, cybersecurity and global trade of digital services, as reported in the Global Interconnection Index, a market study published by Equinix. These macro trends are behind the creation of increasing amounts of data coming from new sources, such as digital media, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), big data and security analytics, augmented/virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The dynamic and interactive characteristics of these technologies demand more elasticity than today’s legacy backbone networks can deliver, as well as more flexible, agile and cost-effective low-latency and high-bandwidth connections to handle the digital deluge. In fact, the Global Interconnection Index predicts that by 2020, digital business will require over 5,000 terabits of Interconnection Bandwidth capacity to privately exchange data between businesses, outpacing the overall global growth of IP traffic, the internet and MPLS networks.

This is why the industry has turned to software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions (NFV) virtualization technologies to carry it into the digital future.

How SDN and NFV are being leveraged and monetized today

SDN encompasses a variety of networking technologies that enable network and cloud engineers and administrators to respond quickly to changing business requirements via programmable controls and a centralized control console. It allows the physical separation of the network control plane (the brains) from the forwarding plane (the muscle). This enables the network control to be programmable and the underlying network infrastructure, which can made up of devices that are not specialized-network appliances, to be abstracted for multiple applications and network services (e.g., SDN cloud computing, mobile networks). Some of its capabilities include:

  • A centralized view of the overall network
  • Programmatic application interfaces (APIs)
  • Efficient orchestration and automation of network services

NFV leverages standard IT virtualization technology to consolidate many network equipment types to reduce cost and improve flexibility, operability and maintainability. NFV is a vendor agnostic, common hardware design and some of its capabilities include:

  • Flexible service creation, multi-tenancy
  • Self-provisioning and orchestration
  • Flexible architecture, fast time to market
  • Resource pooling (compute, store, network)

Suppliers and consumers of SDN and NFV have been working to fully capitalize on these two evolving technologies for the last decade, but there’s still plenty of room to grow. Technology Business Research (TBR) reports that nearly three-quarters of leading Tier 1 operators have adopted or plan to adopt SDN and/or NFV. TBR predicts the total SDN/NFV spend from 2016 to 2022 will grow 94.3% CAGR to over $168 billion.

One way we see our customers monetizing the “softening” of their network infrastructures is in transforming legacy wide area network (WAN) infrastructures with SD-WANs. In its April 2017 report, “Technology Insight for Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN),”[1] Gartner outlines the substantial business gains by deploying SD-WANs when compared to traditional WANs. According to the report, the five-year SD-WAN hardware, software and support costs are 40% to 80% lower than traditional routers, and organizations can spend 50% to 90% less time configuring SDN-enabled branch hardware versus routers. Those are huge savings!

How to get to software-defined everything…for everyone, everywhere

To succeed in this new global economy, businesses need to form global partnerships within and among digital and business ecosystems that can leverage proximity for the direct and secure exchange of data. That proximity gives them the power to create a more dynamic, physical and virtual distributed interconnected and integrated solutions for a worldwide digital user base.

An SDN-based interconnection fabric enables businesses to leverage the vital synergies of a hybrid IT infrastructure that blends on-premises and vendor-neutral multi-tenant data centers, networks, clouds, applications, data and security to create globally integrated, end-to-end digital solutions for their customers.

Legacy Carrier-Based Network vs. an SDN-Based Interconnection Fabric

We see SDN/NFV infrastructures playing a critical role in the digital transformation of global digital business in a number of areas. For example:

  • Strategically placing programmable interconnection capabilities for IT traffic exchange and control at the edge to access critical, latency-sensitive IT services, applications and data/analytics assets
  • Enabling fast access to hybrid and multicloud services that are proximate to applications, data and users. This speeds time to market, accelerates scalability and ensures reliable redundancy for business continuity and disaster recovery.
  • Easing the consumption of network bandwidth for data exchange using a choice of providers to reduce costs
  • Embracing more dynamic business models (virtualization, IoT, AI/ML, etc.) by leveraging agile software technologies, rather than investing in more expensive, specialized hardware
  • Leveraging APIs and DevOp orchestration tools to automate and facilitate innovation and efficient and effective development processes

For example, our customer PCL Construction has office locations, which can include over 200 operational remote job sites and over 700 projects at any given time, in 31 major centers in Canada, Australia, the U.S and the Caribbean, The company wanted to model its digital transformation around a foundational strategy based on four pillars: cloud, mobility, integration of systems and data, and data and analytics. However, it could not efficiently or cost-effectively achieve those goals via its legacy MPLS network. PCL Construction moved to a more commodity internet and SD-WAN infrastructure and gained the proximity it needed between its cloud services, data, locations and users by taking the most direct and optimized routes possible. As a result, it realized consistent, predictable connectivity, with up to 59% lower latency in some locations from its network backbone to all its remote offices and worksites. The change also enabled faster cloud “on-ramps,” and the company saw a significant reduction in annual costs, with a greater user experience.

By evangelizing an “SDN-everything” strategy throughout your company, you can push greater levels of interconnection out at the edge and capitalize on a more effective and cost-efficient hybrid IT infrastructure to grow your digital business, delivering greater performance at the best cost.

Learn how you can harness the power of software-defined networking to reach everywhere, connect everyone and integrate everything on Platform Equinix™.


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