There are two acronyms which, when taken together, may represent the future of networks for the rest of the 21st Century: SDN and NFV.
You've probably come across these terms referenced in articles, but may or may not have paid much attention. When they first started getting thrown around a couple years ago, they seemed pretty pie-in-the-sky. Things are much different today, however. Newer brands like ADTRAN and Meraki are actively -even aggressively- pushing SDN and NFV solutions, and there's a growing coalition of both hardware and software vendors looking to standardize and embrace them.
The words "paradigm shift" are thrown around way too often in technology circles, but this is probably a case where it's warranted. If the SDN NFV convergence continues (and there's little reason to think it won't) we're looking towards a very bright networking future which is both more powerful AND easier to use.Attack Of The Acronyms: SDN and NFV
First, let's get a quick handle on what the terminology means.
SDN, or Software-Defined Networking, is about separating the "high level" network logic systems from the network hardware itself. Basically, this means moving away from the old style of proprietary network hardware OSes, which are rarely compatible with each other, and towards a more open form of network design where the controlling software is abstracted from the hardware.
Basically, it's like how a standard Intel-based PC can run Windows, Linux, BSD, or any number of other niche OSes on top of the same hardware. In the case of SDN, this means moving the network controlling software into a shared cloud-based or otherwise virtualized system shared between the hardware components.
NFV, or Network Function Virtualization, focuses on the more specific jobs handled by the network. Network hardware in the 00s and early 10s was largely about an increasing clutter of specialized hardware devices handling specific functions - firewalls, routers, spam filters, WAN optimizers, and soforth. This made high-end networks somewhat inefficient and extremely expensive to implement, plus requiring a lot of space and energy consumption.
NFV is basically about turning those specialty devices into apps running on the shared SDN-based network framework. This approach requires having more general-purpose hardware on the physical devices -like faster processors- rather than specialty chips.
So how do these converge?
The Future: An Open Hardware-Based Independent Network
The key to the SDN NFV convergence will be the development of shared open standards, as well as more open-source software solutions, that allow the creation of inter-compatible network hardware that's 'agnostic' towards the software being run on top of it.
This isn't a fantasy; it's truly becoming a thing. Groups such as the Open Networking Foundation are steadily gaining support among major players. Networking-related companies are realizing that exclusionist competition between hardware is holding back network progress, rather than enabling it.
As these trends continue, we'll see networks which can:
- Require much less physical hardware.
- Take many burdens of administration off admins who currently struggle to comprehend, much less control, their networks.
- Add hardware interfaces from a wide variety of brands in "plug and play" fashion.
- Incorporate major services like firewalls as apps rather than hardware appliances.
- Seamlessly interface with other networks while maintaining security/privacy restrictions.
- Embrace user-side devices in BYOD ecosystems without compromising security.
These are very exciting times for networking, and Hummingbird Networks is proud to be part of it. Right now, the future of networking looks very bright indeed!