Hardware OEMs Need Not Fear Software Abstraction

by Daniel Mandell | 02/04/2014


Networking has never experienced innovation that would so dramatically benefit the work of software engineers and developers worldwide, until recently. Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are at the center stage of a technological revolution. However, how will these relatively new technologies impact traditional embedded hardware markets? Though SDN and NFV present substantial benefits to networking infrastructures, VDC Research believes SDN/NFV technologies will have only a marginal impact on embedded hardware markets through 2018.

Mobile network carriers and internet service providers now have an answer to further optimizing and improving upon their legacy infrastructures; a blessing disguised as a virtual and mobile network capable of supporting virtual devices disconnected from physical design. SDN and NFV are extremely similar in that both optimize hardware resources via software implementations. More specifically, SDN enables users to program network layers separating the data plane from the control plane. NFV enables agile distribution of networking resources when and where they are needed. With this elevated level of programmability, users can more easily optimize network resources. Service and network providers now have the ability to increase network agility, service quality and  time-to-market, and guarantee a more dynamic, service-driven virtual network.

Because NFV is more focused on the distribution of networking resources for when and where they are needed, the technology’s principal supporters are telecom service providers such as AT&T, BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefóno, and Verizon. On the other hand, SDN focuses more on enterprise networking and the associated embedded hardware. Software solution providers such as Big Switch Networks, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Juniper, and VMware all offer SDN controllers.

Growth in cloud-based solutions have led more and more companies to rely on SDN and NFV as major components to their technological infrastructure. Through abstracting network hardware with either NFV or SDN, companies are able to take advantage of changing dynamics in the market or application requirements – as opposed to being exposed by them. For example, IT administrators in the past would have to rely on costly ASICs to control network traffic flow. With SDNs, the administrator can manage data traffic in a very effective manner using legacy or other hardware.

NFV is a very straightforward and carrier-driven technology that continues to be increasingly popular in telecom applications. However, the deployment of SDN is not as straightforward. The main issue with SDN is how new the technology is. We recognize that SDN and its relative infancy are problematic for those lobbying to IT budget holders. IT operations are the backbone of many critical business operations, though, and it is important that suppliers reinforce the operational and fiscal advantages of SDN technology.

Not only are SDN and NFV still in their infant stage, but early adopters will be potentially more vulnerable to higher deployment costs, lack of availability of trained people, and insufficient support in open source software (which will become more important as open source software continues expanding in embedded applications and technologies like SDN/NFV). However, SDN and NFV have the potential to greatly increase the effectiveness and manageability of networking functions when fully developed. Despite the vast benefits enabled through SDN/NFV technologies, they will only marginally impact the embedded hardware market through the next several years.

by Conor Peal, Research Associate

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