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Implementing NFV & SDN into modern enterprise networks is crucial to keeping pace with an ever-changing & developing industry

Evaluating NFV and SDN: Key Considerations

Making informed network investment decisions about emerging technologies such as network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) can help evolve the network to keep pace with the innovations of the devices and people it's connecting. As you work with business leaders to make decisions about upgrading your infrastructure with these networking developments, it's important to understand the similarities, differences, and benefits of dual NFV and SDN implementation.

With their ability to offer a new way to design, deploy, and manage the network and its services, NFV and SDN should be incorporated into modern enterprise networks and carrier infrastructures. However, lack of knowledge about these technologies can result in poor networking investments and missed opportunities to experience the benefits of each. While they hold similar principles, and benefit virtual environments overall, NFV and SDN possess distinctive characteristics that make them both individually important to successfully managing the network and its services.

NFV vs. SDN: Similarities and Differences
At a very basic level, software-defined networking is the practice of separating the control panel of a network from the data plane that forwards network traffic and the centralization of control to provide instructions to the infrastructure. When implemented effectively, this separation creates a centrally controlled, managed, and programmable distributed network, and fosters more efficient orchestration and automation of network services, agility and flexibility, network flow, and overall innovation. This ultimately detaches the network from the underlying hardware, enabling the network to integrate with and support virtualized data centers.

On the flip side, NFV virtualizes network functions and optimizes the network services themselves; the implementation of network functions in software allows the network to benefit from virtualized data center technology by eliminating the need for physical proprietary pieces of hardware. Placing these virtual appliances in a hypervisor environment can create a centrally programmable infrastructure that costs less to maintain and support. NFV also improves reliability because misconfiguration and operator errors become less prevalent.

Both technologies are intended to advance a software-based approach to networking and develop more agile, scalable, and innovative networks that better meet a business's overall IT objectives. As such, NFV and SDN serve many of the same purposes. Both strive to move functionality to software; utilize commodity servers and switches, as opposed to proprietary appliances; leverage application program interfaces (APIs); encourage more streamlined orchestration, virtualization, and automation of network services; and help operators manage rapid demand growth while reducing capital and operational expenditures (CAPEX and OPEX). However, their specific varying characteristics make them most effective when implemented together.

NFV and SDN: Better Together
As evidenced by the above, SDN and NFV both serve specific purposes in establishing an efficient virtual network, but their principles largely overlap with one another; while not interdependent, SDN and NFV complement each other and as such should be implemented together to achieve the best results. SDN provides network automation that fosters policy-based decisions to orchestrate the direction of network traffic, while NFV focuses on the services, capabilities, and virtualized environments. SDN and NFV offer new ways for data centers to manage their IT infrastructures. SDN allows users to program network layers, separating the data plane from the control plane, while NFV enables agile placement of networking services when and where needed. By enabling this level of programmability, SDN and NFV technologies enable users to optimize their network resources, increase network agility, service innovation, accelerate service time-to-market, extract business intelligence and ultimately establish dynamic, service-driven virtual networks. SDN and NFV are influencing the convergence of IT, data center, and telecommunications and giving data center managers the flexibility and scalability to anticipate changing market demands and stay ahead of customer expectations.

Best Practices for Working with NFV and SDN
When considering transitioning to a dynamic data center architecture in which you may leverage one or both of these software-driven strategies, consider using these best practices for successful implementation. This is not an exhaustive list, but can help you get started:

  • Consider your goals: Discuss and decide the specific functionality you need from each of the two network services solutions.
  • Know your business case: Have the knowledgebase necessary to effectively explain why your company should implement SDN and NFV. Are you providing services that require high availability? Are there certain applications that you're directing high volume traffic to? It's important to know the answers to these types of questions to ensure you're getting both financial drivers and IT pros on board for a successful implementation. To that end, the ability to translate the impact an SDN or NFV implementation will have on your business's bottom line and overall objectives (read: go beyond the technical detail) will go a long way towards greasing the wheels for future adoption.
  • Integrate into your existing infrastructure: As is often the case with new technologies, integrating NFV/SDN into existing technologies-and adoption overall-is one of the biggest hurdles to implementation. To clear this hurdle, it is important to evaluate a product in a test environment that closely simulates production and employ monitoring as a discipline. Basic monitoring principles applied in the testing and implementation phases of SDN/NFV adoption ensure you have an established baseline of network performance and health to better understand how SDN/NFV is impacting your infrastructure.
  • Choose your vendor wisely: When making this decision, select a trusted vendor who can help you navigate the deployment and certification challenges, while still understanding if their recommendations are in alignment with your own long-term business goals. As the NFV space matures, a plethora of vendors offer NFV-based wares and services, including AT&T®, Cisco Systems®, Dell®, Citrix®, Microsoft®, Oracle®, Verizon®, Brocade®, Juniper®, and more.

Maintain Relevancy in an Age of Innovation
Implementing NFV and SDN into modern enterprise networks and carrier infrastructures is crucial to keeping pace with an ever-changing and developing industry. However, as with any new technology adoption, taking the time to consider the key factors of the two networking developments before deploying is critical. As you make the decision to adopt these technologies, it's important to be able to communicate to business and IT leaders and decision makers the benefits of NFV and SDN and their importance to succeeding in a modern IT environment, in addition to leveraging implementation best practices to help ensure a successful adoption. While these developing technologies may seem like a jumble of acronyms, learning the key components of each will help you keep up in this age of innovation.

More Stories By Destiny Bertucci

Destiny Bertucci is a Head Geek at SolarWinds, and is a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), CIW Masters, INFOSEC, MCITP SQL and SolarWinds Certified Professional. Her 15 years of network management experience spans healthcare and application engineering, including over nine years as SolarWinds Senior Application Engineer.

After starting her networking career in Vo-tech CCNA/Security+ and working as consultant, Bertucci decided to apply her experience using SolarWinds tools in her everyday life to grow with the tools. Certifications and degrees followed, including database development and INFOSEC, with more in the works. Customizing SolarWinds products while working on setups and performance broadened her knowledge across networking, systems, virtualization, security, and databases.

Bertucci began her IT career in 2001 as a networking consultant before joining SolarWinds to help grow the tools she had come to rely on. She boasts a deep knowledge of the complete SolarWinds product line, including customization, leading to expertise across network, security, application, server, virtualization and database management.

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