I don’t think anyone would dispute software is the new currency in networks.
The Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) initiative calls for defining and deploying the next generation of network functions with software, rather than specialized hardware. Software Defined Networking (SDN) is another visible trend which although currently focused on data centers, is predicted to impact networking markets broadly in the future.
The move toward software running on highly uniform commodity hardware isn’t surprising; it has fueled the extraordinary ascent of data center driven content networks for years. The same strategy will substantially alter the economics of provider networking (“eyeball” networks) – by reducing costs (capex and opex), making networks more service friendly and provider businesses more agile. The power of software will bring IP and IT together. Software is the key to unlocking network functions often embedded in closed hardware or otherwise out of reach of providers. This is a major advance, instead of continuous costly hardware-biased upgrade cycles as below, software-biased networks put providers in control.
- Specify a new appliance,
- Integrate into the network,
- Discard the old appliance,
Moving to software-biased network architectures implies APIs for programming network functions. Conventional networking kit typically limits programmability to boundaries defined by the commands offered by the vendor. More and better options will be needed in the future. The emergence of APIs will also naturally lead to an evaluation of the role each function plays in the network, or could play, and a logical structuring of APIs to maximize its utility. To illustrate a simplified generic logical model is shown in the diagram below. Ultimately “real” programmability will make it easier to build and maintain networks and also enable entirely new kinds of services and redefine how services are created.
There’s work to be done to inhabit the software defined world everyone sees on the horizon. But providers can start the migration away from proprietary appliances now. APIs and platforms that simplify and enhance key network functions like DNS not only improve operational posture, but support initiatives to increase subscriber engagement and ultimately improve the bottom line with new kinds of services. By starting now providers obtain immediate benefits and gain strategic alignment with long term operational and business goals. There’s a huge community of participants ready to support this new wave of networking. Many conceived and delivered the technologies that dominate today’s Internet; all are anxious to innovate and create a new Internet that’s even better than the one we have today.