Report: Automation is driving the adoption of SDN by service providers

IHS Markit's survey says that more service providers will be deploying SDN this year. (IHS Markit)

Driven by the need for automation and lowering capex, SDN usage by carriers continues to march forward, according to a recent IHS Markit survey.

According to a survey of 23 service providers from around the globe, 78% of the respondents had deployed or were evaluating software-defined networking (SDN) by the end of last year. That number jumps to 87% by the end of this year as more service providers move out of proof-of-concept trials and into real-world deployments.

Automation and a reduction in capex and opex were among the top goals listed by the service providers in the survey for their SDN deployments. By the end of this year, 74% of the respondents will use SDN to automate the delivery of new services while 65% will use it for operations and management.

IHS Markit's sixth annual market survey of global service providers was written by IHS Markit analyst Michael Howard.

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While capex and opex have largely been the promise of SDN since its inception, capex savings are starting to come into focus with the disaggregation and merging of some network functions.

SDN is also a valuable tool for breaking down service silos. But one of the reasons that some service providers have been slow to adopt it is the difficulty of merging legacy systems, such as OSS/BSS systems, with SDN-enabled architectures.

In order to manage new services and applications, and make the migration to hybrid networks, the need for automation and SDN is pretty much a given these days.

"The majority of service providers are investing in SDN in order to simplify and automate the provisioning of their networks for end-to-end network and service management and control—with the goal of having a global view of network conditions across the various vendors’ equipment, network layers, and technologies," Howard wrote in his report. "SDN figures in provider plans to generate revenue, with multi-cloud and network slicing for applications and IoT figuring more prominently this year.

"Still, carriers will learn that some avenues are not as fruitful as expected, and telecom equipment manufacturers and software suppliers may well invent new approaches that open up new applications."

Howard lists products that are not carrier-grade and the difficulty of integrating with legacy systems among the barriers for the use of SDN.

Not surprisingly, SD-WAN topped the list of SDN-based services expected to generate new revenue, with 78% of the respondents identifying it as a key deployment goal, while nearly half (48%) plan to implement network slicing for IoT.

Among service providers, AT&T has been a big proponent of SDN. AT&T has a stated goal of virtualizing 75% of its network by next year. At the end last year, AT&T had virtualized 65% of its network largely due to its use of ECOMP/ONAP.

IHS Markit contacted service providers that represented 44% of the worldwide telecom capex and 44% of the revenue for its survey.