The IT environment is slowly moving away from dedicated hardware to more software-defined functions. Server virtualization launched the trend, enabling organizations to break the one-to-one relationship between an application and server hardware. Those ideas have broadened to encompass the concept of “software-defined anything,” a term Gartner coined to describe an IT infrastructure that emphasizes programmability, interoperability and automation.Back in 2014, Gartner predicted that by 2017 more than half of all enterprises would have adopted a software-defined approach to IT. In reality, implementation has been much slower. This is particularly true for software-defined networking (SDN), which was touted as a “game-changer” as early as 2012. The technology has seen steady annual adoption rates of about 11 percent, and almost half of organizations will have deployed SDN by the end of this year. Nevertheless, some network administrators have resisted the move to SDN because it requires a completely new set of skills.
In the simplest of terms, SDN is model for managing networks that separates control from the physical network hardware, enabling administrators to dictate how traffic is routed using software. Instead of configuring each switch and router with vendor protocols, administrators use the SDN controller to centrally manage commodity hardware and programmatically define how applications and services are delivered across the network. SDN simplifies network management, automates the provisioning of network resources, and improves agility, scalability and security.
However, industry analysts are now suggesting that a closely related concept called network functions virtualization (NFV) will take the lead and ultimately drive adoption of SDN. NFV is designed to virtualize network functions and services that now require dedicated appliances. By running these functions and services in software, organizations can consolidate networking components such as firewalls, WAN optimizers and load balancers and host them as virtual machines on commodity hardware.
Like server virtualization, NFV enables organizations to reduce capital expenses for network hardware as well as operational costs and complexity. It improves resource utilization and enables IT teams to perform many administrative tasks remotely on a common platform. The total cost of ownership (TCO) benefits of NFV are too compelling to ignore. According to a recent report by ACG Research, NFV can reduce the TCO of networking equipment by as much as 62 percent, and deliver a one-year ROI of 33 percent and a five-year ROI of more than 350 percent.
Developed by a group of network service providers, NVF is primarily used at this point by service providers and telecom carriers. However, NFV is starting to take root in the enterprise as more options become available. In fact, Cisco has predicted that 2017 will be the year that “NFV comes to the enterprise.”
Although organizations don’t need SDN to take advantage of NFV, the two concepts are often lumped together because they represent the continued shift to a software-focused networking model. And, ultimately, SDN will provide the intelligence that makes virtualized network functions more agile and responsive.
The move to software-defined networking has been slower than expected, but it’s becoming critical for enterprises seeking to become more flexible and stay competitive. Let Technologent help you better understand your options and choose a path forward that supports your business operations and objectives.