Article

Ritesh Gujrati
Ritesh Gujrati 13 November 2017
Categories B2B, Technology

Software Defined Networking vs. Network Function Virtualization—Differences and Benefits

As the demand for scalability increases and reduction in costs grows, companies are increasingly looking for agility from their network systems. This is the juncture where Software defined network (SDN) and Network function virtualization (NFV). While both these technologies redefine the economics of networking offering ways to simplify networks and enhance performance they do differ at a functional level.

These two technologies are closely related, yet independent and rather interestingly, are complimentary and mutually beneficial. While SDN can control non-virtualized functions, NFV can be deployed and virtualized without SDN. The differences though subtle, exist.

Let’s observe some differences between these two technologies:-

Network Functions – The Central Idea:

SDN separates the network’s control from the underlying physical devices through an abstraction layer in between thus centralizing the programmability and management of the distributed network. NFV, on the other hand, decouples the network functions from the proprietary hardware and transfers the network functions from dedicated devices to more generic hardware platforms.

Protocol Usage:

SDN uses the OpenFlow protocol, one which defines the communication protocol in SDN network and enables the controller to directly communicate with the hardware devices. Basic difference with a common objective

Both SDN and NFV rely on software that operates on switches and servers but both these technologies operate at different levels of the network. It is a given that both technologies look towards virtualizing the network system. While SDN offers users to manage network through software that makes network centrally programmable ensuring faster configuration, NFV takes it to a level above by altogether separating network functions from hardware devices like routers, switches. NFV helps to host the network services on virtual machines which have a hypervisor that allows multiple operating systems on a single hardware processor.

Supporting Groups:

The managing and supporting organization for SDN is Open Networking Foundation (ONF) while that for NFV is the European Telecom Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Working group. Both ONF and ETSI are not-for-profit organizations.

Benefits of NFV and SDN:

Let’s observe some benefits:

NFV reduces the cost of network expansion by cutting down on the equipment and power costs. It also enhances the flexibility of the network and reduces the time-to-deploy new services, this it does by minimizing the usual network operator cycle. NFV also helps in reducing the maturation cycle significantly. It enables a faster and efficient testing and integration phase even as it helps for services to be rapidly scaled up or down.

SDN primarily helps network operators by making networks programmable. Companies, especially, large enterprises benefit as SDN helps them move the heavy traffic around the networks. This helps enterprises operate even when a fiber link is down as SDN reroutes the traffic to another path.

Future course and growth of SDN and NFV:

As per IDC estimates the SDN market which was at $406 million in 2013 is currently valued at $6.6 billion in 2017 and is poised to grow at CAGR of 25.4% to $13.8 billion by 2021. This is a clear sign that SDN is emerging out from an early stage technology to a mainstream stage of its development and this is good news for SDN providers such as Cisco, Juniper, and VMWare and their clients.  (The names of the three above mentioned companies can be removed if client does not want them)

A survey by Network World  states that out of 249 networking professionals (interviewed) about 49% are either actively piloting SDN implementation or considering using it and 18% have installed SDN already.

The growth and future prospects for NFV are no less, as per survey report from IHS – a world leader in analytics solutions, the global NFV market which includes software, hardware, and services will be $15.5 billion by 2020. The market is set to grow by a CAGR of 42% from $2.7 billion in 2015. NFV represents a shift from a hardware focused approach to software focused one. In fact, the software contribution to the NFV market will be 80% of the 15.5 billion by the year 2020, while hardware and services will contribute to the rest 20%.

What would propel the increasing need for both SDN and MFV technologies are the emerging popular technological trends such as –Cloud Computing, Mobile, Big Data,  etc.

Conclusion:

Both SDN and NFV with their respective differences are approaches towards the ultimate goal of Network Virtualization and Automation. These two emerging technologies are closely related and yet have different objectives in functional terms. As companies plan ahead to embrace these technologies, it is important to understand the differences between the two. It is also important to recognize the ways in which both these technologies can help alleviate network issues and help network administrators enhance their network capabilities.

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