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Beyond Telecom: SDN/NFV applications across industry verticals

July 24, 2018

With the growing adoption of cloud across industries, the role of software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) technologies is no longer confined to the telecom industry. Enterprises and businesses across verticals are now relying on SDN and NFV technologies to achieve higher returns on their information technology investments, make their operations more efficient and support a wide range of services and offerings. As per industry estimates, about 63 per cent of large enterprises in India are planning to deploy SDN technology as part of their network architecture in 2018. These include banks, healthcare institutions, and manufacturing and retail companies. While some companies will use it to improve their business efficiency, and increase flexibility, others might use it for securing their services. Virtual customer premises equipment and software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) provide a centralised management framework for automating network devices.

Meanwhile, NFV can help automate the network to provide services like virtual firewalls and load balancers. Further, NFV can be used to automate hybrid cloud networking, which is largely being managed through manual configuration at present.

A look at the applications of SDN and NFV in enterprises across verticals...

Financial services industry

Enterprises in the financial services industry are constantly striving to adopt a more customer-centric business approach. To this end, they need to safeguard sensitive customer and business information and ensure compliance with government regulations. In this scenario, SDN can be deployed to make networks more responsive and secure. SDN enables network administrators to manage all the devices/ resources on a particular network from a central site. Centralised management gives organisations control over application performance and the security of all devices on the network. In terms of application performance, SDN allows organisations to control and prioritise data traffic, ensuring that the most important services are delivered first. As far as security of the network and all the connected devices is concerned, SDN controllers provide a central point of control. This makes it easier to collect network usage information, which can help organisations detect anomalous behaviour that may lead to a security breach or an outright attack.

SDN also helps in automating the routine network administration work. Besides reducing the manpower requirement, SDN enables enterprises to deliver a more error-free output and complete its tasks in a timely manner. For instance, Citicorp’s data centres have a software-defined architecture and its network is now using a cloud-scale IP network fabric. On top of this fabric lies a software-defined virtual network and a software-defined storage fabric. Citi has deployed big data, NoSQL and NewSQL data services, grid computing, virtual desktop infrastructure, and private cloud services on the new architecture. This has resulted in a robust and agile network that is able to handle the load of millions of transactions per second, at lower infrastructure costs.

Retail sector

Retail is one of the most competitive industries as buyers today are more informed than ever. This places enormous pressure on retailers who are constantly striving to reinvent their brand and products to strengthen their positioning. Retail companies today are seeking networks that can accommodate new retail models, applications and services based on advanced technologies. At the same time, they want to ensure that their capital and operating costs do not increase significantly.

WAN is being extensively used by retailers to provide existing services as well as innovative new offerings across their stores. Retailers need a WAN to run SDN and NFV on generic hardware. This will make the network more flexible, responsive, efficient and agile.

New retail services such as virtual fitting rooms will use augmented reality (AR). Delivering responsive, smooth and immersive AR requires both sufficient capacity on the WAN and the ability to manage traffic so as to protect it from jitter and packet loss. Similarly, a retailer can reinvent its business model to get physically closer to potential customers by adopting a flexible and dynamic store setting strategy. This would require setting up smaller, mobile and even seasonal or temporary stores. To support this, retailers will need a flexible WAN that can add and move locations with low lead times, quickly and without disruptions.

Health care

Healthcare organisations need to constantly upgrade their network infrastructure to improve patient care and deploy new medical technologies. They can leverage the high speed, flexibility and agility of SDN for unified communications, data security and monitoring patients’ health. SDN can help create multiple virtual networks with different configurations for patient monitoring, unified communications, clinical data, guest internet access.

Since delayed communication in health care can have serious ramifications, SDN helps hospitals prioritise critical communication/applications over any other communication. For instance, the information of a life-threatening cardiac abnormality should receive priority in transmission, vis-à-vis back-office and personal applications. The network must have the capability to differentiate between patient records for a routine check-up and those for an emergency case.

Further, voice and unified communication plays an important role in the healthcare industry. It helps healthcare institutions provide medical services far beyond physical infrastructure. It is particularly useful in rural areas where people do not have easy access to medical services or infrastructure. To provide these services, healthcare providers require constant and dependable connectivity and better quality of service. Static configurations of voice calls may work well for wired and wireless phones, but not as well for softphones running on computers and mobile tools. SDN enables unified communications controllers to inform the network of the voice or video call, and the network then configures itself for the call.

Manufacturing

Enterprises in the manufacturing industry use WAN for applications such as real-time audio/video monitoring to manage the production line. These applications are sensitive to small changes in latency, which can have a noticeable effect on production. Typically, manufacturing organisations have distributed plant networks that are tied to a centralised data centre, which controls their IT operations. SD-WAN can be extremely useful in case of network segmentation, which involves isolating specific product lines or divisions, contract manufacturing, connecting devices or things on the plant floor, and supporting a range of WAN links such as 4G long term evolution for connection in remote areas.

Telecom and IT

SDN and NFV will lead the transformation of the Indian telecom and IT industries. These technologies help telcos manage complex networks with multiple nodes, spread across a huge geographical area. SDN and NFV are being used by operators to efficiently scale up networks through process automation. This leads to improved resource utilisation and service assurance and thus to higher return on investments for 3G and 4G networks. Automation is also relevant in a multi-vendor environment, wherein multiple network domains and architecture add complexity to the network and limit its scalability. The multi domain service orchestration feature of next-generation SDN and NFV platforms eliminates management silos and enables service providers to automate end-to-end service provisioning.

Further, second-generation SDN/NFV container-based micro-services architecture enables telcos to deploy web-scale technologies, optimise resource utilisation, integrate third-party solutions and quickly add new features. A key advantage of this approach is that if one component of a system fails, it does not lead to the failure of the entire platform. The other compo-nents continue to operate without any disruption. Besides, micro-services architecture can scale up as per the requirements of telcos.

Conclusion

SDN and NFV are finding many takers amongst Indian enterprises across different verticals. Going forward, these technologies will coexist with the existing traditional networks. The key factors that will drive the demand for SDN and NFV are improved time to market, reduction in capex and opex, and opening up of new revenue streams. Virtualisation will allow enterprises, particularly with multiple branches and large operations, to achieve efficiency, scalability and agility.

 
 

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