SDN and NFV in FTTH
I love acronyms. You got three of them in the title of this post.
In recent years we got Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Many of the large telcos have invested millions into research of these subjects and are pushing the industry in this direction. Telefonica has expressed high ambitions to move to a completely SDN/NFV enabled network in record time. All the big ones are involved.
The short story is SDN=automation. A piece of code running in a server can set up the necessary configuration of all technical equipment involved in delivering a service. NFV=software instead of hardware. Those expensive big routers can be reduced to cheaper brute-force ASIC solutions and all that intelligence in implementing advanced functionality is moved to software running on a server in some data center. The expected outcome is faster deployment of new functionality (only upgrade the software), easier scaling (moving the software to more or fewer servers to match the need) and lower cost (cheaper hardware). The agility and flexibility to introduce new functions and scale is often cited as they key benefit.
But agility and flexibility in relation to what? Well if you are a big telco that have been around for 100 years there is a legacy of systems and processes and the way things are done to implement a new service that is considered slow and inflexible in today's rapidly changing world. That is why Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, AT &T and others are interested in SDN/NFV and that is why much of the industry have this new talking point that gets a lot of attention. At this time perhaps 5G is about to take over the role of most exciting topic on the worlds telecom related conferences, but SDN/NFV still hangs in there and everyone sort of expects 5G to be implemented with SDN/NFV solutions.
Unfortunately the state of SDN/NFV is not as far ahead as many would like, at least not if you are thinking about FTTH. In certain very specific applications there are solutions available - a server with software might replace your BNG in the near future, but as a general technology for all sort of networking… no.
Hopes and expectations are that there will be open-source somehow magically created to implement all the cool services and that you will be able to download a complete network from github, just add the hardware from the cheapest online shop for white box gear that you can google. Reality is something else.
Open-source is great. We have built a lot of functionality in iBOS on open-source, but there is not enough stable open-source out there to create a complete embedded operating system for network equipment with all the functions needed for any normal FTTH network. You can pick the pieces together but they do not fit out of the box so some (a lot) tweaking is required.
Your see, open-source does not just magically appear. It takes time and devotion from some individual or group of coders that have a common interest or specific need to solve to create the code for it. So unless your needs happen to be the same as theirs you won't be able to just download, compile and run it.
Then there is the matter of getting it production ready. Testing, integration (not least if we talk about white boxes with NFV programs on servers and an SDN controller on top). Telefonica probably have thousands of people working with their systems and network design and research to get there. A city network deploying FTTH have a couple of guys running the network, designing, deploying, troubleshooting and trying to have an eye on the future.
If you pick your whitebox hardware, your embedded network operations system, your SDN controller and your NFV features all from different sources, who is going to put it all together and ensure that it all works together? And who is going to solve the problems when one component fails?
Network operators going down the SDN/NFV route need to be prepared to have their own system and integration testing teams and maybe even find a couple of coders to fix the problems that prevents the solution from working in their environment.
Eventually SDN and NFV technology will make its way into FTTH networks, but for the majority of networks built today and over the next few years, SDN and NFV are not mature enough and too far away from deployment ready to be a good solution for a city network with a handful of engineers doing everything.
Sure, some of the larger telcos will build their networks on this technology, and sure there will be SDN/NFV implementations of certain specific functions (such as the BNG) in the FTTH networksbut the whitebox-NFV-SDN nirvana with open-source that just works out of the box is far away yet.
Don't get me wrong. I think SDN and NFV are very interesting technologies that will change how networks are built and Waystream is of course working on these topics as well. But it is from that work that we realize how far away the solutions worked on today are from being useful for our customers.