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Is SDN/NFV becoming an afterthought? No, of course not. However, the message that network infrastructure needs to be cloud based, cloud native, and cloud ready (and so on) has hit the telecom industry hard, and vendor messaging around cloud-based technologies got much louder over the last year. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) will remain the building blocks for network transformation; but the move from basic software implementations to dynamic virtual network function (VNF) orchestration, and ultimately to a cloud-native network, will require significantly more automation.

SDN/NFV talk pivots from cloud to automation

The telecom industry has been talking about SDN/NFV for at least six years now. Megatrends around 5G, IoT, and telco digital transformation continue to drive SDN/NFV investments; and although SDN and NFV are poised to transform how operators create, deliver, and manage new services in a 5G world, the adoption rate for these technologies has lagged anticipated growth. This dynamic is certainly one that fits any technology hype curve, but there have been a few stumbling blocks. The first major hurdle was that initial SDN/NFV use cases were not cloud native; they couldn't allow customers to reach the scalability necessary for anticipated network data traffic levels.

Vendors have listened to their operator customers and have been pushing their cloud-based capabilities. For example, at Oracle Industry Connect earlier this year, the telecom vendor had a clear stance that cloud accelerates true digital transformation. The technical sessions at the conference focused on SDN and NFV, but all major keynotes highlighted Oracle's cloud-based solutions. Other vendors have followed suit (see the growing Juniper and Red Hat  partnership, VMware, and Cisco) and the telco industry continues its move toward being cloud native.

The next step required to push SDN/NFV further into the mainstream is integrating extensive automation into SDN/NFV platforms. At the core of this technology wave will be enhanced VNF lifecycle automation. VNFs running on a cloud-native network promise to be instantiated, scaled, and managed in real time based on network demands. For this to happen, a VNF lifecycle manager with built-in automation is essential. Leading vendors, such as Cisco, Ericsson, Juniper, IBM, and Nokia, are increasing investments in VNF automation, either through acquisitions or internal developments. Also, several startups, such as Accanto Systems, CloudSmartz, Pensa,, and Sea Street Technologies, are offering automation solutions that will enhance telecom vendors' SDN/NFV platforms with intent-based modeling.

Ultimately, automation is the next wave of network software integration that will enable operators to achieve the velocity, scale, self-optimization, and self-healing properties the cloud-based, programmable network promises. The talk around automation will get louder over the next six to 12 months, as operators look to further SDN/NFV deployments with new and current partners.


Further reading

NFV, MANO, and Next-Generation OSS, SPT002-000075 (April 2018)

Market Opportunity Analysis: NFV/SDN, SPT002-000027 (January 2018)

"Pace of SDN/NFV adoption does not meet initial vision," SPT002-000034 (December 2017)

"Service assurance moves up a notch," SPT001-000002 (November 2017)


Stephanie Gibbons, Principal Analyst, Network Infrastructure and Software

[email protected]