SDN and NFV Deployment Challenges

SDN and NFV are two of the most exciting features in the industry. However, they pose many challenges for CSPs. Here, we will focus on SDN and NFV deployment challenges and how CSPs should tackle them.

NFV at its Very Basic

Network functions virtualization (NFV) defines standards for computing, storage, and networking resources that can be used to build virtualized network functions.

Best practices for Deploying NFV & SDN

One can be used without the other, but combining them lets them reach their goals more effectively. Read more about SDN/NFV in our blog post A Powerful Match: SDN/NFV

SDN at Its Very Basic

Software-defined networking (SDN) is an architecture that brings agility and flexibility to networks. To achieve this goal, it decouples the Data Plane from the Control Plane in a network. Old telecom engineers will quickly recall SS7 signaling as an analogy.

 Best practices for Deploying NFV & SDN


Recent market surveys ranked the primary factors inhibiting service providers from SDN and NFV. The results showed the top SDN and NFV deployment challenges included the lack of orchestration, active business cases, and capabilities needed to operationalize SDN/NFV. Respondents also recognized complexities associated with the integration with third-party VNFs, organizational problems, and the necessity of cohesive industry standards as significant obstacles. Opportunely, though, most of these inhibitors are transitional issues that service providers can approach.

1. Orchestration and Integration in Hybrid Networks

While NFV is promoted as being built on industry-standard hardware and software, service providers sometimes still face vendor lock-in. To make it work, software elements need to be fully interoperable. The resulting network should be rapidly flexible, scalable, and benefit from dynamic resource allocation. Therefore, hybrid, vendor-agnostic, orchestration is critical to avoid SDN and NFV deployment challenges and to enable end-to-end services to run multivendor networks made up of physical and virtual components. 

The market also needs more comprehensive preparation among partners to provide market-ready, VNF-based service packages that avoid VNF vendor lock-in and enable service providers to bring new services to the market instantly. NFV should allow access to a full range of interchangeable Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) that can be cost-effectively and efficiently deployed.

The lack of information and insight means that CSPs are becoming locked into full-stack virtualized solutions from a limited set of vendors. Rather than having their choice of hardware constrained by a lack of interoperability, CSPs are now finding limitations in the virtual world.

2. Business Cases 

It’s an unrealistic supposition that applications in software on standard platforms will meet the throughput and latency demands without allocating significant CPU resources. Operators understand that the cost savings of NFV are offset by the need to deploy entire racks of computing resources for a problem that a single appliance could previously solve. The CPU and server costs, rack space, and power required to meet the same performance footprint of a dedicated solution end up being as expensive as or more than custom-designed alternatives. The vision of operational simplicity and dramatically lower total cost of ownership are still a dream on the horizon.

In this sense, defining active business cases for virtualization continues to be a challenge for some CSPs, which is not necessarily a surprise, given that cost reduction is not frequently the main driver behind virtualization. Instead, reducing time-to-market, optimizing networks, and developing new services were the main drivers for emerging technology. As these benefits can be challenging to quantify, making business cases based on them is more challenging to determine. These drivers usually require service providers to get investment approval from executives at the highest level.

3. Lack of Capabilities

As SDN and NFV are in their earliest stages, it is no surprise that NFV presents an opportunity to decrease OPEX and enhance the customer experience. One obstacle is the availability of vendor solutions, as well as the reduced adoption of technologies enabling service providers to embrace the capabilities needed to operationalize SDN/NFV. Migrating to SDN and NFV shifts service providers’ networks from hardware-centric, semi-static connectivity platforms to software-driven, dynamic service platforms. It is a transformative event and will remain an inhibitor until service providers begin to make that shift.

4. Organizational Issues

Regulatory issues were not among the top inhibitors. Still, respondents did note that the lack of a governance model that fosters collaboration between the network and IT as a challenge. As the industry shifts to a more software-oriented approach, network and IT organizational functions should synchronize or merge. Even though this goes against how most service providers are organized, the merging of the network and IT functions, it is now fully accepted.

5. Lack of Standards

Although standards were described as a minor inhibitor, they are often named as common inhibitors of innovation. In numerous cases, standards serve to catch up to innovation. Standards bodies are working to streamline their processes, but they are often incapable of keeping up with the industry’s competitive pace. This dynamic is putting pressure on service providers and their strategic partners to invest in and deliver multivendor, end-to-end solutions that can automatically adapt to standards over time.

6. Management and Orchestration Issues

Given the dynamism and scalability that SDN/NFV brings, management and orchestration in multitenant scenarios are not straightforward. To flexibly assign resources on-the-fly, the network should support situations where resource demands vary considerably in relatively short timescales. A flexible, automated, and programmable orchestration platform is a must to cope with this requirement. 

7. Security and Privacy

The open interfaces that support the programmability of the network bring new potential attacks to software networks. This calls for a consistent multi-level security framework composed of policies and mechanisms for software integrity, remote attestation, dynamic threat detection and mitigation, user authentication, and accounting management. The security and privacy concerns arising from SDN/NFV are today a concern.

The good news? None of these inhibitors is a roadblock for virtualization. They are simply potholes that can be avoided with the precise approach. Although many of the SDN and NFV deployment challenges currently identified in the surveys are seen as inhibitors, they will probably unfold as SDN and NFV roll into large-scale production.

One can be used without the other, but combining them lets them reach their goals more effectively. Read more about SDN/NFV in our blog post A Powerful Match: SDN/NFV

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