How SDN and NFV Technologies Are Transforming Network Management

John Hanahan
How SDN and NFV Technologies Are Transforming Network Management

One of the salient characteristics of the digital revolution is the acceleration of change. Technologies that enabled the digital revolution over past decades experience ever-faster innovation cycles-for example, recall how rapidly mobile phone technology has advanced. And while it’s a challenge to stay current with such accelerated changes, the advancements consistently deliver both operational and economic benefits.

We’ve seen these advancements in the way networks are implemented and managed. Networks today can be established, expanded and updated without the need for enterprises to assume complete responsibility for the procurement, installation, configuration and maintenance of network hardware infrastructure. Communications, network and cloud service providers have assumed much of this responsibility and make it easy for enterprises to take advantage of the latest network capabilities. Providers like Equinix play a major role in enabling enterprises to connect globally and manage network resources and interconnection far more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before.

SDN and NFV technologies

Two technology trends that are transforming network management, particularly those that are widely-distributed and employ public, private or hybrid cloud services, are software-defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). Together, SDN and NFV technologies are making it easier to provision network resources, reducing CapEx and OpEx and enabling greater network flexibility.


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Understanding SDN

Software-defined networks take a virtualization approach to network management, treating the management of network devices separately from the data plane controlling network traffic. By adopting a software-defined approach to network management, enterprises gain greater flexibility and control in configuring network resources, establishing policies and optimizing performance. The increasingly disaggregated nature of networks makes SDN a preferred approach to network management.

The benefits of SDN

SDN is one of the many areas in which purpose-built hardware functionality is being replaced by software. Replacing the physical with the digital brings significant benefits, including:

  • Elimination of protracted hardware procurement, installation and implementation cycles.
  • Rapid configuration and modification of network resources via centralized, programmatic controls.
  • Increased automation of network activities in response to processing demands. These include provisioning/deprovisioning, security policy modifications and performance monitoring.
  • Easier implementation and administration of security functions such as encryption key management, firewalls and VPN terminators to protect data and applications.

SDN facilitates efficient management of network resources

Adoption of public and hybrid clouds, the widely-distributed nature of network resources, and the requirement to locate data, applications and security at the edge make SDN a favored approach to network management.

SDN enables granular control of networks, allowing segmentation to differentiate among security settings based on sources of network traffic or the sensitivity of the information being accessed. Traffic can also be dynamically prioritized based on processing demands, with the need for real-time processing at the edge taking priority over processing that can tolerate greater latency.

Any enterprise struggling with the management of widely-distributed network resources and the need to quickly respond to dynamic processing demands should consider the advantages of SDN. Centralized network management and the ability to quickly provision, secure and optimize network resources are key reasons to consider an SDN strategy.

SDN and NFV technologies are complementary

One of the key elements that facilitate SDN adoption is the growing use of network functions virtualization. SDN and NFV technologies are complementary, with NFV providing many of the actual services managed in a software-defined network. SDN focuses on the control plane while NFV focuses on optimizing the actual network services managing data flows.

The genesis of NFV was the need for faster deployment of network services in response to business growth. Physical hardware network devices can have the inherent drawbacks of protracted procurement cycles and physical installation, the latter being problematic when installing devices in many remote locations.

With NFV physical networking, appliances such as routers, firewalls and VPN terminators are replaced by virtual devices that run on commodity hardware. In many ways, this mirrors the as-a-service approach characteristic of cloud services. These virtual devices can be made available on-demand from communication, network or data center providers.

Provision a virtual router in minutes

Let’s look at an implementation scenario. An enterprise needing to deploy a router in a remote location would provision a router in minutes in the following manner:

  1. Select and procure a virtual router license such as the Cisco Cloud Services Router 1000V.
  2. Deploy the vRouter at the edge, either on your own infrastructure or on Platform Equinix.
  3. Establish connectivity, such as connectivity between different cloud environments, using the Cisco Cloud Services Router 1000V and Equinix ECX Fabric.

In comparison to the installation of physical hardware, virtual network devices offer near-instantaneous provisioning. The benefits are all the more compelling when an enterprise needs to quickly provision virtual network devices in multiple remote locations. As the number of virtual network devices offered increases, enterprises will be able to further improve their ability to quickly respond to the dynamic demands of network management, provisioning network resources to optimize network performance.

SDN and NFV technologies find synergy in Platform Equinix

Platform Equinix is aiming to provide a global infrastructure to provide, integrate and interconnect virtual networking services, such as Cisco, with our software-defined interconnection, ECX Fabric. Via Platform Equinix, cloud and other as-a-service platforms and services are readily accessible to enterprise customers, enabling cloud-based applications and data sources to capitalize on the availability and flexibility of SDN and NFV technologies.


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