How future ready networks will enable the digital enterprise

10 May 2017

By Mark Bennett, Head of Global Fixed Connectivity Products, Vodafone

By Mark Bennett, Head of Global Fixed Connectivity Products, Vodafone

Vodafone predicts it will take up to 10 years for SDN and NFV to become the norm, but there are benefits to adopting your next-generation network strategy now

SDN (Software Defined Network) is automating and simplifying the configuration of networks in order to meet the application performance and user experience requirements of the enterprise. This enables networks to more be more agile, efficient and secure, which is especially critical to meet the real time demands of cloud services, digitisation and mobility.

NFV (Network Function Virtualisation) is a complementary technology, one that is taking those functions that today require their own vendor-proprietary dedicated hardware, such as firewalls and routers, and making them available through software from the network.

In terms of what these technologies mean for the Enterprise, SDN and NFV offer greater agility because the organisation will have a network that’s far more responsive and can be changed within a matter of minutes through self-serve portals and APIs.

SDN enables wide area networks to be provisioned a lot faster, which means the Enterprise is able to roll out new services quicker and better respond to market conditions. In the past, configuring a network involved manually updating routers in different locations and multiple site visits to provide additional capacity, network functions and security services. SDN automates the supply chain to a great extent and facilitates a consumption based, on-demand network experience that’s more responsive to different applications and user types; understands who is on the network; how they are connected and the levels of access they should have.  

When used together, SDN and NFV enable greater efficiencies for the Enterprise, either in terms of reduced hardware deployments as they move to virtualisation, or the consumption-based network where they only pay for the capacity and services they need when they need them. They also accelerate innovation as the Enterprise is able to choose from a wider range of network and security services from a wider range of vendors than is possible today through the traditional fixed network world.

How SDN/NFV will evolve 

Analysts, such as IDC and IDATE, predict the take-up of SDN and NFV will be gradual over the coming years, with IDC suggesting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53.9% from 2014 to 2020 to create an industry worth nearly $12.5 billion in 2020. IDATE is even more aggressive on SDN adoption, suggesting that ‘while a modest part of the global SDN and NFV market will be captured by telcos in 2020, large-scale deployments are expected to begin in 2016, and their CAGR over the next five years is projected to stand at 47%. Furthermore, it believes the market will be worth almost 19 billion EUR by 2020.

There are several reasons why this movement will initially be slow. First, it depends on the vertical industry. Some organisations are going to want to adopt more quickly than others, so, for example, you might find CTOs and CIOs are more risk-averse in utilities, while they are quicker to embrace change in retail. 

Some customers are very early in contract cycles and in fixed WAN terms these cycles can often be three to five years, so they'll be sweating their existing assets. That said, it is important that organisations make use of consultations, network audits and application discovery, to prepare and plan transition paths to software defined networks.

More importantly, there needs to be a drive within the organisation to change and that review may well be three years into a five-year contract. This will typically be driven by opportunities to reduce costs, the roll out of new IAAS or SAAS public cloud services such as Office 365, work force mobility or a desire to innovate and digitise processes and customer experiences.

The next 18 months will be a transformative period for SDN as we start to see adoption of what we call virtual CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) services. Today, customer sites have physical devices for different functions, such as routers, switches and firewalls for example. In the future, there’ll be one device that connects to the wide area network and all those different functions will be accessed from through software from within the network, or locally using compute resource within the virtual CPE or at the customer site.

For the customer, this means a reduced hardware deployment that is less power-consuming and more environmentally friendly, while providing access to a wider range of functions.

We’ll also see greater adoption of software-defined WANs which connect enterprise branches and the cloud. These application driven, on-demand networks, dynamically steer connectivity over the top (OTT) of hybrid fixed, internet and mobile networks. This provides more affordable higher capacity, whilst meeting Enterprise objectives for the user application experience.

In three years, software-defined WAN will not just be delivered OTT, they will interact with the underlay transport or physical networks. This means you're not just controlling from the edges of the network, but you're controlling the underlying network infrastructure, so you can better resource the network in terms of capacity and workload. 

The strongest approach to delivering this type of network will be in the ability to control the software-defined network end-to-end. This must be supported by a significant network that offers a more assured experience than OTT services.

Vodafone Ready Network  

Vodafone Ready Network delivers an open and interconnected, software defined network, connecting the enterprise and the cloud with in-built security and end-to-end SLAs, including the underlying fixed and mobile networks.

Over the last three years, Vodafone has significantly extended its fixed network capability. Our Global IP-MPLS network now reaches 73 countries directly including 28 PAN Africa markets. We’ve connected 10 of our national local markets networks to our Global Network and made available 4G IP-VPN customer site access in 13 countries.

Furthermore, we recently launched 100Gbps high speed, low latency, Ethernet network services delivered between 26 countries over our global optical transport network leveraging over 1million kilometres of Vodafone fibre assets. We also operate one of the world’s leading Internet platforms. Our extensive global, and local, fixed and mobile networks provide a strong foundation upon which we are layering an enhanced portfolio of SDN and NFV products under the Ready Network.

We have spent a lot of time developing Vodafone’s Ready Network, focussing on Enterprise and taking a customer led, use case approach, rather than rolling out technology only to find it does not meet the customer need. Vodafone has undertaken many tests and proof of concepts, working with a range of vendors who are best in class for their role in the architecture. We’re rolling out an open, standards based, multi-vendor SDN that not only provides Enterprise with a greater choice of innovative network and security services, but is also a future proofed network solution to meet today’s technology demands, as well as the next big trends, for example robotics or artificial intelligence.

Transitioning to Vodafone’s Ready Network enables three overriding benefits for the Enterprise. The first is being 'confidently connected'.

With the exponential growth of new devices and communities on the network, increasing cloud adoption and cyber-attacks, Enterprise networks need to be secure at all points and all layers. It’s also essential to have visibility of what is happening on the network and to have access to services which pre-empt attacks and issues. Security needs to be embedded across all points and a range of cloud delivered and cloud optimised security solutions planned. Inbuilt analytics also enable intelligence to inform of anomalous network events or, for example, capacity utilisation threshold breaches set with customers, allowing proactive action to be taken to ensure an ongoing reliable and secure performance according to the Enterprise business needs.

The second benefit is one of 'accelerating innovation', by which we mean the network acting as a hub that gives the enterprise access to functions and services that they don't have access to today. It will also be possible for Enterprises to test and upload its own services and applications onto the network.

In real terms, this means no longer are a high volume of dedicated hardware devices required at the customer site. Instead, the organisation can choose from a global catalogue of multi-vendor functions all activated in minutes, in self-serve mode, over the network.

It allows them to roll out their own applications onto the network to deliver the right service performance to their customers, employees and stakeholders. What’s more, through incubation zones, developers can test and co-create services using API on the Ready Network platform to the benefit of our Enterprise customers.

The third benefit is one of agility and speed, with faster provisioning and self-control of the network. Vodafone’s global scale and local presence delivers a consistent service experience with local flexibility, IT teams can control all aspects of their network from firewall policy and bandwidth usage, to user access rights and profiles, for example.

Vodafone’s objectives for its Ready Network includes reducing  provisioning cycle times by 75 per cent from 2018, and making over 50 per cent of network changes possible through self-service within the next three years.

The network as a digital enabler

SDN is maturing as the standards are ratified, rolled out and being adopted. As a technology, the end status for all providers should be to offer a truly open, multi-vendor, interoperable network but that has some way to go. In 2016, we decided to Open-Source our Common Service Model APIs through the TM Forum and these are now being adopted by the wider ICT industry. These standards will help ensure wide interoperability and connectivity

As customers are digitising their processes, their channels to market and discovering how their workforce can be more productive, we want them to think of SDN as the solution that is the most adaptive and that can evolve with their organisation to deliver the optimum service they require.

We think of our Ready Network as a broker – the SDN solution that enables connectivity across the enterprise, connecting their locations, their people and their devices, but also connecting them to cloud services, to virtual functions and services on their network as required – at Vodafone, we are brokering that connectivity.

As we move into a more dynamic and mobile world, Vodafone’s mobile heritage is a key differentiator for our Ready Network proposition. For example, we already have virtualised Voice over LTE services running in Germany, where we have 27 million subscribers already live.

Ultimately, whether your organisation is looking to adopt SDN and NFV in the short-term or the long-term, the key benefits to implementing its deployment are three-fold.

It lies in its agility and speed, allowing for fast provisioning of networks. It lies in its ability to accelerate innovation across the enterprise. And it lies in its delivery of a more efficient, on-demand network that is secure from end-to-end, so you have a confidently connected experience.