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With the rapid proliferation of software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) in the enterprise, it has become imperative to understand each concept to see how they can work together.

According to Market Research Reports, by the end of 2020, SDN and NFV investments will be worth over $20 billion – that’s an average increase of 54% per year between 2015 and 2020!

Why have these networking approaches been gathering so much of interest from network device vendors and managers of large switched networks? The answer lies in the underlying functionalities used.

Let’s take a minute to understand Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV)

Software Defined Networking

The role of SDN in 5G is predicted to become clearer and may well be a thread that ties the multiplicity of meanings of 5G together, in the coming years.

Source: Network Computing

SDN found its humble beginnings in campus networks. When enthusiastic researchers wanted to experiment with various protocols, they quickly realized that it was frustrating to change the software in the networking devices each time they wanted to try out a new approach.

On the organizational front, there were two critical industry challenges that SDN sought to address:

  • Creating and managing huge IP/Ethernet networks is highly complicated. It was important that traffic management and operations efficiencies be improved.
  • Cloud computing gave rise to a new approach to application deployment where users must share public cloud data centers, without interference and multi-component apps have to be deployed on flexible resource pools without causing any loss in performance and security control.

The objective of enabling a network to make the attributes of the network devices programmable, and authorizing them to be monitored centrally, gave rise to Software Defined Network.

Comprised of various network technologies, SDN typically works as a method to design, build, and manage networks that alienate the network’s control (brains) and forwarding (muscle) planes. This enables network control to become directly programmable and permits primary infrastructure to be abstracted for network applications and services. It helps make the network more agile and be able to support the storage infrastructure of the modern data center and virtualized server.

SDN solutions offer the advantage of allowing the network to integrate with and support the demands of virtualized architectures, especially those with multi-tenancy requirements.

The ultimate goal of SDN is to enable network/cloud engineers and administrators to quickly respond to inconstant business requirements using a centralized control console.

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Network Function Virtualization

Network Function Virtualization was developed by service providers when they discovered that hardware-based appliances limited their capability to achieve revenue goals. By using NFV, they were able to expedite service provisioning and deployment of new network services. This was highly conducive in increasing their revenue and amplifying their growth plans.

At present, virtualized EPC/mobile core, IMS, and policy control platforms represent over 70% of all VNF (Virtual Network Function) software investments.

Source: Market Research Reports

Generally, major service providers build vast and complex networks that provide a wide range of Internet-managed services. Hence, these networks rely on a broad batch of network building blocks (such as optical equipment, wireless gear, routers, broadband equipment, etc.). These devices come from various suppliers and must be linked to internally developed operations and data centers.

NFV implementation into their plans can help in transitioning from proprietary architectures to the realm of network functions virtualization. NFV is typically used to virtualize network functions and relocate them from proprietary devices to standard or generic servers. It is a critical part of service providers’ plans to deliver latest applications and decrease costs. NFV is implemented in phases to ease the migration challenges and sustain service reliability.

The categorical goal of NFV is to minimize deployment costs for services and to improve service flexibility. This is done by decreasing the dependency on purpose-built devices and using a more agile software-based framework for building service features.

Why they are important?

One study reports that investments on orchestration platforms will account for nearly $2 Billion in revenue by the end of 2020, representing nearly 10% of all service provider SDN and NFV spending.

SDN and NFV are paving new ways to design, build, and manage networks. We rely on technology to run our lives. Over the past few years, we have witnessed massive innovation in the devices that we use to access services, networks, and applications. We can’t miss mentioning the computing and storage solutions we count on to hold all that “big data” for us. That is the reason why NFV and SDN are such a hot topic right now.

Now, NFV and SDN have some relevance, but SDN isn’t a subset of NFV. Though not an integral part of each other, these two sets of technology complement each other’s competencies when clubbed. With the use of network overlays, NFV could also unify with SDN infrastructure — centralized and distributed.

NFV’s use of virtual network overlays can drive an expansion of SDN model beyond the data center (where it’s focused mainly today). And end-to-end virtual network would be easier to use for organizations, rather than one limited to the data center. If NFV succeeds in achieving its targets, it will solidify and thrust SDN forward and ultimately create a common network revolution at large.

SDN and NFV are critical for businesses because they:

  • Deliver agility and flexibility by deploying new and efficient applications, services, and infrastructure to meet rapidly changing requirements, in short intervals.
  • Use commodity servers and switches over legacy devices, to move functionality to software.
  • Support more efficient virtualization, automation, and orchestration of network services
  • Enable innovation, by creating new kinds of applications, services, and business models.
  • Can provide more value from the network and new revenue inflows.

Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits that SDN and NFV each offer.


  • Centralized and programmable SDN environments can quickly adjust to the ever-changing needs of businesses.
  • It can limit wasteful provisioning and reduce costs, as well as provide agility, flexibility, and innovation for networks.
  • Traffic operations and management efficiencies can be improved by utilizing central control.
  • Network is abstracted onto software, leaving more flexibility and choice in purchasing hardware.


  • Delivers flexibility and agility by quickly scaling up or down services, to address rapidly varying demands.
  • Accelerates time-to-market by allowing quick and easy trial and evolve services to determine best
  • practices.
  • Moving networking operations from hardware to commodity servers helps providers evade overbuying devices.
  • Reduces the cost of building networks (CapEx) by encouraging pay-as-you-grow model to eradicate wasteful overprovisioning.

We predict that as SDN and NVF continue to intersect further, it will pave way for enhanced central control. The hype around SDN and NFV is growing rapidly among various business sectors and industries, prompting many CTOs and CIOs to educate themselves on the basic concepts as well as the benefits these solutions can bring.
No matter how well regulated your storage and servers are, the IT platform would not run effectively unless the network takes shape. Before making a headlong dive however, it is crucial that companies understand SDN and NFV technology capacities and the options available to them.

Do you want to learn more about SDN and NFV and how they can help you realize your business outcomes? Talking to one of our IT experts might be the way forward for you.

Tell us your greatest networking challenge and receive a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Fill out a 3 question survey and receive a $10 Starbucks Gift Card. At IT Buyer's Resource we match your I.T. initiative with the industry’s best solutions and partners.
ITBR Networking Survey