An SDN roadmap

Innovation accelerates and compounds. Each point in front of you is bigger than anything that ever happened.”
Marc Andreessen.

Regular readers / subscribers of this blog have noticed that SDN / NFV (Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualisation) has been a regular topic of conversation because it has the potential to revolutionise not just OSS and carrier networks but vendor and CSP business models as well. I’ve been asked to describe why SDN is gaining so much momentum, how CSPs should seek to investigate its relevance / risks for them, and what resources are available to create a reliable implementation roadmap.

The great majority of people responsible for planning the future of CSPs and of their suppliers know of this development but in many cases their understanding has of late begun to lag behind the reality. SDN / NFV represents a means of radically reducing a CSP’s time to market (TTM) and cost, whilst also providing a platform for major innovation / customisation within the CSP’s network. It’s seen as a very substantial disruptor for network vendors and CSPs alike, from technologies to business models. As one vendor told me recently, “We missed out on the IP revolution so we’re investing in a massive way to make sure we don’t miss out on SDN.”

Since this has the potential to be a game-changer, I’d strongly urge all CSPs to do a detailed analysis of how SDN could impact their business (if they haven’t already done so). Apart from the obvious task of identifying potential benefits / functionality for your organisation, as a starting point I’d recommend developing an understanding of time to market, cost base and relative risks of these technologies in your hands, not to mention in the hands of your competitors. Given the relatively nascent stage of these solutions, you’ll probably need to engage someone with enough experience in dealing with an array of vendors/suppliers to separate the most likely realisations and timings from marketing hype. I’d also like to clearly note that SDN will revolutionise network and B/OSS, so the impact analysis must take both aspects into account.

The benchmark information described above provides the basis for cost/benefit/risk profiles as well as timeframes for alignment with a CSP’s capital allocation process (assuming all the benefits still stack up). You will then hopefully have enough information to get the attention of the executive suite, which in turn drives strategic directives and real business case development.

This body of work has been a topic of lengthy discussion with one friend and colleague of mine in particular in recent months. To use his words, it needs attention “at a high level, involving the CEO or at least the COO and head of Strategy. If it stops at the CIO it would be too systems focused and incomplete.

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