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Confused by SDN & NFV?

These may be complementary options for the network of tomorrow

big data network

There’s a lot vendor activity these days – not always moving in the exact same direction – with regard to standardizing SDN (software-defined networking). But, if that’s not enough to make a network planner’s head spin, how about upping the ante with a dose of NFV (network function virtualization)?

When there is so much going on that can impact future network investment decisions, it’s easy for paralysis to set in. But, thankfully, this is not a zero sum game where enterprises have to choose between Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualization, nor do they have to commit to one to enjoy the benefits of the other.

Earlier this year, CIO.com published a nice SDN & NFV primer that’s must reading if you’re looking for a way to explain this stuff to the bosses.

Don’t hold back in expectation that one of these technologies will knock out the other. You might lose an opportunity to steal a march on the data center architecture of tomorrow.

Unlike many other competitions to assert one network protocol or standard over another, this is a battle that never was, according to Patrick Moorehead, in a Forbes blog.

Brocade has a pretty nifty infographic comparing the two side by side.  What strikes me is the “Why?” comparison at the end. For NFV, it’s to reduce CapEx and OpEx, speed up time to market, and be agile and flexible. For SDN, it’s to reduce CapEx and OpEx, be agile and flexible, and enable innovation. Talk about overlapping objectives!

It helps to look at this picture from two perspectives: that of the carrier and that of the enterprise. To vastly oversimplify things, NFV grew out of the carriers’ needs to encompass hardware from multiple vendors that populate their customers’ networks; the solution is to virtualize network services so they can roll out new services on more general purpose devices, rather than rolling out function-specific hardware.

SDN disaggregates the network control logic from the network equipment, to provide a service layer that is more manageable and programmable than physically reconfiguring networks.  

The goal with both SDN and NFV is to control the network logically, with software and minimize hands-on work with those network devices.

Brocade, an early proponent of SDN, just named winner of the Internet Telephony NFV Pioneer award, recently demonstrated the complementary aspects of these two networking technologies with the launch of what eWeek termed An Open SDN, NFV Platform for Network Operators

Let’s go back to that CIO primer and author Ed Tittel’s viewpoint: “Though many IT pros are inclined to stand these two concepts up against each other, as in SDN vs. NFV, these two revolutionary networking developments don't represent an either-or proposition.” Rather, he adds, “the centralized control and management decreed in SDN can in part be realized through the virtualized functions and capabilities that come from NVF.”

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