opinion


The Service Defined Network

Modern city aerial view and communication network

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece David Stokes of Ribbon explores a new meaning for the SDN TLA.

We all know that technologists love a three-letter acronym. But sometimes, those acronyms could do with a bit of work to really explain what they mean to the potential buyers.

Doing what it says on the tin – a network defined by its services.

Hands up those who remember when GSM stood for Groupe Speciale Mobile? Fancy naming an entire technological approach that would change the way the world communicates, after the committee in Paris that first set out to reach the agreements that would lead to a European standard for mobile communications that the world could support.

Of course, the strength of the technology would mean that GSM overcame the burden of its name – that and the fact that so many people decided that the acronym must stand for Global System for Mobiles that the GSM Association later gave up and adopted that as its definition.

But there are plenty of other examples of technology acronyms that need explaining and don’t help the potential buyer to understand what is meant by those three letters. A great example is NFV – Network Functions Virtualization, and the whole host of acronyms it brings with it (VNFs, NFVi, VMs, MANO, VIM, SDI). It can certainly take a while to explain what is going on behind those letters, let alone trying to tackle and identify the VNFs that NFV supports.

What’s more, whenever someone starts talking about NFV within networks, its sister acronym, SDN (Software Defined Networking) usually makes an appearance. This is another concept which is poorly understood by those outside the industry – beyond the basic tenet that the use of software makes upgrades easier and should therefore provide more flexibility for adding new capabilities.

Now to be fair, this level of understanding may be sufficient in a number of situations, but it does not talk directly to the full potential of the underlying technology nor the services which the Service Provider is positioning. What’s more, the term SDN doesn’t really help the sales and marketing team to talk in glowing terms about their network when they are speaking with their enterprise customers. Those customers are less interested in how the technology works and came about, and much more interested in what it does. That is why the GSM acronym evolved from the name of the committee to the capabilities provided by the technology.

Looking forward, I think that, in this case, history can teach us a lesson when it comes to modern telecoms networks such as 5G. These networks by default have to be focused on efficiently delivering services, and meeting specified service performance parameters such as latency, capacity, reliability, every time and all of the time. With the ever-increasing mix of different services and the need to control costs, achieving this is entirely dependent on intelligent network software being able to configure a dynamic, agile and programmable network.

To describe this type of network as software defined or software-led network is to understate what is required. Instead, my belief is the network and the way it is thought about, talked about and written about has to evolve from being software defined to becoming “Service Defined”.  When we speak of SDN, we must be speaking of a Service Defined Network, not a software one.

The conversation with the enterprise customer can then be all about the services they require and the ability of a SDN network to deliver them. The service provider should be confident that their toolkit allows them to offer the customer services tailored to meet their specific needs and the performance required on a service-by-service basis, as well as the capacity to guarantee delivery of these services, to any location, anytime they are needed.

Service providers should also be able to give the enterprise customers the confidence that they are agile enough to allow them to extend their services, to change the parameters associated with each of their services, and to introduce new services, all in real-time. On top of all that, this must be achievable without over-engineering the network and hence keeping the networking costs to the minimum required to be fit for purpose.

Service defined networking has to be able to automate and optimize all the available network resources to meet demand; it requires an orchestration system able to plan, implement and adapt service delivery in real time; and it must be open and agile enough to embrace network innovation and evolution as it occurs.

Service providers that put these elements together to build a service defined network will provide their sales and marketing teams with a competitive edge when selling services to enterprise customers; and those customers will be able to do more and expect more from their services, meaning they come back to the service providers to ask for more – a truly virtuous circle.

Importantly, ‘Service Defined Networking’ delivers a network that is not only easier for the users to understand, it’s also one that can serve to accelerate the 5G revenue opportunity for the service provider community.

 

David is Senior Manager, Solutions Marketing at Ribbon where he focuses on Ribbon’s IP transport portfolio and IP-enabled solutions for 4G and 5G Mobile Transport, mission-critical industries and defense, homeland security and government. He is an experienced professional with extensive telecommunications knowledge gained from working across all infrastructure technologies including SDH/SONET, Fixed and Wireless Access, IP/MPLS, Carrier Ethernet, PON, Optical Transport and Network Management. Before Ribbon, David held roles in Development, Systems Engineering, Product Strategy and Product Management at a number of companies including Marconi, Fujitsu, Lucent Technologies and Nokia. He brings this proven combination of marketing, technology and product strategy expertise to his current marketing role at Ribbon.

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