Understanding their differences, similarities and benefits


Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in March 2020. It has been updated to include the latest information. 

Virtualization is enabling network architects to design, implement and manage network services far more efficiently than ever before. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are two of the key capabilities fostering this transformation. In this blog we briefly explain the concepts, comparing SDN and NFV, and show how and why their complementary capabilities should be part of every enterprise’s network strategy.

Software-defined networking (SDN) manages networks by separating the control plane from the forwarding plane. Architects and administrators use software to configure and manage network functions via a centralized control point. This approach creates dynamic, agile and scalable networks that use the virtualized infrastructure of modern data centers to respond rapidly to changing business requirements.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) decouples network functions from proprietary hardware appliances (including routers, firewalls, VPN terminators and SD-WAN gateways) and delivers equivalent network functionality without the need for specialized hardware. These virtual network functions (VNFs) run on high-performance x86 servers and offer the distinct advantage of on-demand deployment.

SDN vs NFV: Similarities

In many ways, SDN and NFV are interdependent. When deployed together, they can achieve flexible, agile network infrastructures. NFV provides the basic networking functions and SDN assumes higher-level management responsibility to orchestrate overall network operations.

SDN vs NFV: Differences

SDN and NFV have much in common, based on the concept of virtualization that drives the development and deployment of their capabilities. Major differences between the two include the overall network management responsibilities and the standards that guide architectural and functional development.

Equinix helps enterprises worldwide realize the benefits of SDN and NFV

Equinix can help enterprises accelerate their adoption of SDN and NFV. Equinix offers the world’s largest dynamically interconnected SDN-based ecosystem, with 240+ data centers across six continents. Equinix Fabric®, our software-defined interconnection solution, securely connects thousands of cloud and network providers to reach business partners around the world.

Network Edge services from Equinix provide a digital marketplace of vendor-neutral virtual network functions, allowing customers to select, deploy and connect both network and security devices in minutes. Network Edge is integrated with Equinix Fabric, enabling rapid deployment of network functions without the need for physical data center deployment or hardware requirements.

Virtual network functions deployed across an SDN-based global network

Virtual network functions deployed via Network Edge are enabling enterprises to take advantage of SDN capabilities to modernize networks, deliver new services, establish new connections and optimize performance.

  • Cloud-to-cloud routing: Virtual routers deployed at Equinix data centers eliminate backhaul delays by establishing secure, ultra-low latency connections between applications and data hosted in two different clouds.
  • Hybrid cloud firewall: Virtual firewalls protect corporate networks from attacks against public-facing applications hosted on public clouds.
  • Branch-to-cloud SD-WAN: Equinix interconnection hubs can help customers optimize connectivity between distributed branch locations, cloud providers and SaaS providers.

Enterprises worldwide can quickly take advantage of the complementary capabilities of SDN and NFV without the need for significant CAPEX by using global infrastructure and market-leading network services. To learn more about how to get started modernizing your network with virtual services, read the guide to Network Edge today.


[1]Our Mission,” Open Networking Foundation.

[2]Network Functions Virtualisation,” European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

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