SDN & NFV – Not any more the Future!


The power of virtualization is not unheard anymore. From networking companies to semiconductor, virtualization is spurring digital transformation and augmenting a new technological revolution of technology convergence. Though SDN & NFV is looked into with alike eyes both has their architectures and characteristics are different, given they both use network abstraction. SDN seeks to separate network control functions from network forwarding functions, while NFV seeks to abstract network forwarding and other networking functions from the hardware on which it runs.

Thus, both depend heavily on virtualization to enable network design and infrastructure to be abstracted in software and then implemented by underlying software across hardware platforms and devices. Network function virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) are composed to convert service and network architecture. SDN was created with a view to control network devices without the requirement to modernize the software on every device each time a new protocol was created.

By making the devices configurable and programmable centrally, researchers increased the skill to automate network behaviors rapidly and also, increase the level of control over their networks. SDN is an approach to design, build and manage networks. NFVs are software operations of network functions that can be arrayed on a NFV infrastructure.

Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and network virtualization (NV) are prompting new design opportunities and challenges at the same time. It is also changing the behavior os the networks on the basis of design, build and operated. With more and more data stored in the cloud, aapplications and services using more computing capabilities and storage solutions SDN and NFV are cementing their paths in the world of technology with growing adoption rate.

SDN, NFV, network virtualization, and white box networking (bare metal switching) are all identical and at the same time follow the same characteristics. They each offer a new way to design deploy and manage the network and its services:

  • SDN: separates the network’s control (brains) and forwarding (muscle) planes and provides a centralized view of the distributed network for more efficient orchestration and automation of network services.
  • NFV: focuses on optimizing the network services themselves. NFV decouples the network functions, such as DNS, caching, etc., from proprietary hardware appliances, so they can run in software to accelerate service innovation and provisioning, particularly within service provider environments.
  • NV: ensures the network can integrate with and support the demands of virtualized architectures, particularly those with multi-tenancy requirements.
  • White Box: uses network devices, such as switches and routers, that as based on “generic” merchant silicon networking chipset available for anyone to buy, as opposed to proprietary silicon chips designed by and for a single networking vendor.

SDN and NFV – Changing Networking Management

Networks are implemented and managed. Networks today can be established and can be made scalable and updated regardless need for enterprises to assume complete responsibility for the procurement, installation, configuration and maintenance of network hardware infrastructure. Software-defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are widely-distributed and employ public, private or hybrid cloud services.

The Benefits of SDN

SDN enables purpose-built hardware functionality to be replaced by software. Replacing the physical with the digital brings significant benefits, includes:

  • 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.

Alongside, more 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.

How These Technologies Are Developing?

A new SNS Research report, for example, estimates that service provider SDN/NFV investments will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46% between 2016 and 2020, accounting for over USD 18 billion in revenue by the end of 2020. OpenFlow is only one of the first SDN canons, but it’s a key component because it started the networking software revolution. OpenFlow defined a programmable network protocol that could help manage and direct traffic among routers and switches no matter which vendor made the underlying router or switch. In the years since its inception, SDN has evolved into a reputable networking technology offered by key vendors including Cisco, VMware, Juniper, Pluribus and Big Switch. The Open Networking Foundation develops myriad open-source SDN technologies as well. IDC estimates that the worldwide data center SDN market will be worth more than $12 billion in 2022, recording a CAGR of 18.5% during the 2017–2022 period. The market generated revenue of nearly $5.15 billion in 2017, up more than 32.2% from 2016.

In 2017, the physical network represented the largest segment of the worldwide datacenter SDN market, accounting for revenue of nearly $2.2 billion, or about 42% of the overall total revenue. In 2022, however, the physical network is expected to claim about $3.65 billion in revenue, slightly less than the $3.68 billion attributable to network virtualization overlays/SDN controller software but more than the $3.18 billion for SDN applications.

IDC says that intent-based networking “represents an evolution of SDN to achieve even greater degrees of operational simplicity, automated intelligence, and closed-loop functionality.”

The Security Architecture

SDN enables a variety of security benefits. A customer can split up a network connection between an end user and the data center and have different security settings for the various types of network traffic. A network could have one public-facing, low security network that does not touch any sensitive information. Another segment could have much more fine-grained remote access control with software-based firewall and encryption policies on it, which allow sensitive data to traverse over it. SDN and NFV have not considered the new challenges of an integrated SDN/NFV network. In addition, NFV introduces the concept of Service Orchestration, which enables the creation of network applications through the composition of network function susing a predefined recipe. We consider that Service Orchestration is an important aspect of NFV that brings new security challenges for access control. These security challenges arise because Service Orchestration uses high level recipes to build new network applications. In this sense, the access control policies defined at this point must be also defined at high level. Nevertheless, it is expected that network applications built in SDN/NFV are composed of heterogeneous resources, given the diversity of network functions, possibly running on top of different implementation technologies. For this reason, different enforcement mechanisms must enforce the high level security policies defined during orchestration.

  1. Secure the Controller: as the centralized decision point, access to the SDN Controller needs to be tightly controlled.
  2. Protect the Controller: if the SDN Controller goes down (for example, because of a DDoS attack), so goes the network, which means the availability of the SDN Controller needs to be maintained.
  3. Establish Trust: protecting the communications throughout the network is critical. This means ensuring the SDN Controller, the applications loaded on it, and the devices it manages are all trusted entities that are operating as they should.
  4. Create a Robust Policy Framework: what’s needed is a system of checks and balances to make sure the SDN Controllers are doing what you actually want them to do.
  5. Conduct Forensics and Remediation: when an incident happens, you must be able to determine what it was, recover, potentially report on it, and then protect against it in the future.

The Market Possibilities

The SDN market size expected to grow from USD 8.8 billion in 2018 to USD 28.9 billion by 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26.8% during the forecast period. The adoption rate of SDN is expected to grow owing to the growing demand for data center services in businesses. A modern data center networking leverages the SDN framework to accommodate multiple data center tenants with demanding workloads and applications. Network traffic within data centers is leading to congestions due to high-performance workloads. SDN is quite effective in handling congestion related issues in data centers as it provides global visibility and control over the flows in a network. The data center segment is expected to hold a significant market share during the forecast period owing to the increasing demand for data centers in all growing industry verticals. Whereas, Global Reports tore claims, the global SDN, NFV & Network Virtualization Industry is further estimated to grow at a CAGR of 45% from 2018 to 2025 to reach USD 141 Billion by 2025. Both mobile and fixed-line – have already begun making significant investments in SDN and NFV across a number of use cases including but not limited to uCPE/vCPE, SD-WAN, vEPC, vIMS, Cloud RAN and vCDN.