Getting ready for the future with software-defined networking

Software-defined networking will enable today’s explosive data growth to continue by making telecoms more agile and scalable.

Network traffic is growing at an astonishing rate. We attribute this to video conferencing, dynamic cloud workloads and unified communications. Data traffic on the AT&T wireless network grew more than 150,000 per cent between 2007 and 2015. This is only the beginning, though. New technology will continue to push bandwidth demand even higher in the future. This includes the Internet of Things, 4K video, virtual reality and augmented reality.

This explosion of data is already outpacing the capacity of the traditional telecoms network. For a long time, telecoms networks consisted of specialised, single-purpose equipment, like routers, switches and other custom-built network devices. To add capacity, we had to add more equipment. This worked well when most of the data was voice traffic, which increased gradually and predictably. However, today we cannot build the physical infrastructure fast enough. We need a new way to build and manage our data networks.

We found an answer to this challenge in the world of web services. In web services, we already use software to make cheap and replaceable hardware scalable. Doing this at a network level means we need to replace the hardware devices with software apps running on commodity servers and other standardised equipment. This top-down approach to network building is what we mean by network function virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).

NFV and SDN represent a dramatic change for the industry and a major shift in how networks are designed and built. These on-demand capabilities are part of our ongoing shift to a software-centric network allowing our customers to adapt and grow with their business needs. We plan to virtualise 75 per cent of our network by 2020 and migrate up to 80 per cent of our apps into the cloud by the end of this year.

We virtualised more than five per cent of our network in 2015. With that foundation, we plan to accelerate up to 30 per cent this year. This move will not only help meet future business needs, it will importantly give our customers more flexibility, agility and control of their networking services as well as improve overall value of the solution.

What will this change mean for enterprises in the UK?

Quick to set up and easy to manage: When software controls network functions, you can manage and change network functions quickly and easily. The software makes it easy to set up and manage. This will help simplify on-site network infrastructure upgrades and deployments and streamline operations, meaning that you can deploy network functions such as a new router or firewall without waiting and without installing additional on-site hardware.

Space and cost savings: With a network based on software rather than physical equipment, customers invest less in hardware and need less space in the server room.

Enhanced security: SDN enhances security because it is easier for the network service provider to respond to and deploy updates when there is an attack. It is also possible to isolate and contain problems more easily. In the case of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, we can scale the network in near real time to avoid major disruption to customer networks.

SDN is here, whether enterprises are ready or not. Companies need a clear roadmap to prepare for the change. Most organisations have a complex infrastructure with several networks from different vendors. Moving to SDN will mean they need to consolidate resources, move to IP networks and follow a schedule that minimises disruption to the business.

John Vladimir Slamecka, Region President-Global Business, EMEA, AT&T

Image source: Shutterstock/ Supphachai Salaeman