Competition reaches new levels as SDN and NFV continue to permeate the market


Network equipment vendors have been increasing their efforts to develop software-defined solutions for the changing industry, but with the many changes introduced new problems have started to surface. Considering the vendor-agnostic nature of SDN/NFV architectures, network equipment vendors that decide to adopt these flexible architectures are now finding their own services and offerings open to competition from third-party software vendors –on their own hardware!


Let’s take a recent incidence that showcases this phenomenon

The Event:  Cisco removes Nutanix from Solution partnership program

Now to shed light on what lead to this turn of events:

Last year: Cisco -in a bid to acquire Nutanix- offered them a nice, even 4 billion dollars. The fast growing company was reluctant to sell for anything than less than 6B; and it was at this point that Cisco decided to look elsewhere. At the same time deciding to cut any existing OEM partnership talks with the NFVi (Network functions virtualization infrastructure) startup company. Just like their solution for SDN, they instead finally chose to go about developing an in-house solution, utilizing technologies from another company.

Fast forward a year: Nutanix issues a press release where they have independently validated their solution to run on Cisco’s UCS servers. 1 week later they are kicked off the partnership program.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine the string of emotions and conversations that lead to this result. Now that they’ve got their own in-house solution, it’s only logical they would attempt to dissuade users from utilizing competing technologies on their hardware. And this is just one example of many, in which the flexibility afforded by the SDN implementations have created an environment where it’s far easier to overlap into competing NFV vendors.


Illustration of an SDN/NFV architecture
Illustration of an SDN/NFV architecture from the original ETSI whitepaper

One could have easily seen this coming as hardware-coupled vendor-centric solutions, and open platforms like SDN/NFV are in essence like oil and water. So why did they even open their platform up to competitors?

Between the massive scopes of network functions that compromise a modern network, and the major changes brewing in the industry, many companies haven’t had time to fully develop new viable technologies all by themselves. So by opening up the platforms to third part NFV vendors, they can easily increase the flexibility and capabilities of their systems without having to develop these new functions from scratch.


Why this signals the rise of NFV and SDN

As more and more network functions, services and hardware continue to be virtualized we will be seeing an increase in cases like these where there’s an overlap in competing technologies. One can think of it as simply function of its design, due to the fact these systems where architected from the ground up to be as flexible and open as possible. This means it will be very easy for vendors to adapt their solutions onto competing platforms. Once people are certain of SDN and NFV’s ability to replace existing infrastructure, we’ll be seeing an exponential increase in effort put towards virtualizing every single aspect of our networks.

Themodularity afforded by the SDN/NFV architecture allows people to mix /match just the right amount of services and functions for implementation as necessary, and all of this packed inside one common network appliance. After seeing this, it’s quite obvious why many business are choosing to upgrade from traditional network equipment to cheaper software-defined solutions implemented on top of comparatively inexpensive generic x86 rackmount network appliances(like the one pictured below).

x86 rack mount network applianceLanner’s UP-2010 a high port density x86 rackmount network appliance

The incredible power afforded by Intel x86 processors has made these appliances the number one choice as the primary work horse in programmable network computing. SDN and NFV implement numerous services and functions that when scaled up require massive amounts of computing and packet processing power. That’s where these whitebox vendor-neutral network appliances come in. Their low price, widespread adoption and availability have all contributed to the massive market share impacts. They give rise to hardware agnostic networks that make replacing a faulty appliance as simple as plugging in a new one and powering it on. One main use case is in large telecommunications companies like Verizon. Since they have massive infrastructure requirements, by using technologies like Puppet to automate the provisioning of new hardware appliances in a plug-and-play fashion they save an enourmous amount of time and money.

That’s also what has made solutions like Hyper converged infrastructure (basically NFVi) so popular. The ability to abstract hardware to the next level helps by automatically pool all the resources for greatly improved load balancing, provisioning and orchestration. being able to just plug any x86 device into the network and automatically have its resources allotted into the orchestrator, thus making it readily available within seconds is something that’s just too good to pass up in a lot of cases.


Final Thoughts:

No matter which company succeeds more in this competitive landscape, ultimately the true winners will be the end users. Given the nature of capitalism, competition is one of the foremost driving forces behind innovation and price-reduction. We see the negative aspects of this effect in places where companies are allowed to have localized monopolies, almost always resulting in customers being charge ridiculous prices simply due of the fact there’s really no other alternative to turn to.

SDNs power to propagate said competition and innovation because of its design is progressively tipping scales in its favor. Expanding adoption, fast evolution, and incredible benefits have always been a recipe for success. In a modern capitalist country like ours, the prospect of separating SW from HW vendors and then being able to analyze, mix and match the different solutions based solely on their merits will undoubtedly appeal to most.

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