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5 Differences Between SDN and Network Functions Virtualization

May 05, 2017

5 Differences Between SDN and Network Functions Virtualization

As data center administrators look for technologies that simplify network functions while offering lower costs, greater scalability and improvements in network agility, two approaches are being embraced in the networking world: Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). While both offer new and different ways to design, implement and manage the network and its services, both have the capacity to significantly enhance network performance.    

To address larger quantities of data being transmitted, stored and managed on high volume servers, switches, storage technology and in cloud computing environments, SDN and NFV are increasingly becoming attractive options to integrators and value added resellers (VARs) who need to identify strategies that compliment virtualization and network programmability.

There are several reasons for the growth of SDN and NFV. The drivers of these technologies include the growth of big data, mobile devices, and the expansion of distributed databases and servers located at different sites and connected over long distances through public and private clouds that require robust data management systems and access to bandwidth on demand.   

According to a study from Infonetics Research the global carrier SDN and NFV hardware and software market will grow from less than $500 million in 2013 to over $11 billion in 2018.

As VARs embark on a plan to implement SDN and NFV, however, they should appreciate the differences between these two networking approaches and recognize the ways in which both can help network administrators elevate their management capabilities.

Both SDN and NFV rely on software that operates on commodity servers and switches, but both technologies operate at different levels of the network.   

SDN is designed to offer users a way to managed network services through software that makes networks centrally programmable, which allows for faster configuration. Essentially, SDN makes the network programmable by separating the system that decides where traffic is sent (the control plane) from the underlying system that pushes packets of data to specific destinations (the data plane). As network administrators and VARs know, SDN is built on switches that can be programmed through an SDN controller utilizing an industry standard controller like OpenFlow.

By contrast, NFV separates network functions from routers, firewalls, load balancers and other dedicated hardware devices and allows network services to be hosted on virtual machines. Virtual machines have a hypervisor, also called a virtual machine manager, which allows multiple operating systems to share a single hardware processor. When the hypervisor controls network functions those services that required dedicated hardware can be performed on standard x86 servers.

As systems integrators and VARs work with network administrators to deploy these technologies, it’s important to look at the differences between each.  Here are five key differences to keep in mind:

1.  The Basic Idea:

SDN separates control and data and centralizes control and programmability of the network.

NFV transfers network functions from dedicated appliances to generic servers.

2.  Areas of Operation  

SDN operates in a campus, data center and/or cloud environment

NFV targets the service provider network

3.  Initial Application Target.

SDN software targets cloud orchestration and networking

NFV software targets routers, firewalls, gateways, WAN, CDN, accelerators and SLA assurance

4. Protocols

SDN – OpenFlow

NFV – None

5. Supporting organization

SDN: Open Networking Foundation (ONF)

NFV: ETSI NFV Working Group

For resellers and systems integrators working on projects that implement NFV into the network, they should consider that because NFV can add server capacity through software rather than purchasing more dedicated hardware devices to build network services, network administrators can deliver to the data center cost reductions in capital and operating expenses.

Integrators should also consider that they are adding value when they help network managers configure, manage, secure and optimize network resources through SDN programs, which network managers can write on their own because these programs don’t depend on proprietary software.

As VARs and integrators convey the benefits of SDN and NFV, they’ll find an abundance of ways to play an integral role in assisting network administrators, and the companies they work for, to save money while building a network that’s easier to manage, faster to configure and smarter at tackling the growing data challenges of our time.