The world is hyperconnected. Internet Live Stats reports that just over 40 percent of the world is online, and Strategy Analytics reports that there are 1.7 Internet-connected devices for every person on the planet.

All of these people using all those devices generate unprecedented volumes of data. Not only will this data increase, but network speeds will as well – up to 100Gbps.

Heavy Reading recently conducted a survey of communications service provider (CSP) and network equipment provider (NEP) registrants to see where the market is in terms of both traditional hardware and virtualized network appliances. The results of the survey confirm that industry players are very interested in both developing and deploying virtualized network appliances.

Guest article by Dan Joe Barry, VP Positioning and Chief Evangelist, Napatech

One of the key findings of the survey is that the market for network appliances (i.e. routers with firewall capabilities, network monitoring systems) is strong: 47 percent of respondents ranked network appliances as essential, while 39 percent ranked them as valuable. However, there is a fundamental transition taking place in the network appliance space, driven by increased transport network throughput and the impact of virtualization.

Over the last three years, organizations have established software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), with dozens of successful proofs of concept and even limited-scale network deployments.

Another key survey finding is that the impact of NFV and SDN on network appliances will be profound and positive overall. The impact is considered positive because the survey input clearly shows that, with virtualized network appliance growth on the rise, both NEPs and CSPs see a continued need for network appliances in a 100G virtualized world.

Change on the Horizon

Because of the deployment of 100G, increases in data network throughput are happening across all levels, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of 100G transport networks.

For example, CSPs forecast 100G data rates penetration in access networks to grow from nine percent today to 58 percent by the end of just 2018. In the same time period, growth for core transport networks is projected from today’s 22 percent to 75 percent. CSPs also anticipate growth in penetration from 14 percent to 71 percent in metro networks.

That is to say, by 2018, most transport networks will have much greater throughput to support high-bandwidth services. They will have reached the tipping point from a service delivery perspective. Heavy Reading attributes this sharp growth spike to the preliminary impact of early 5G network upgrades to support the high capacity this new technology will consume.

Acceleration and Performance

CSPs that currently rely mainly on 1G (39 percent) and 10G (36 percent) technology in access networks plan to deploy 10G technology within the next 12 months, largely at the expense of 1G.

By mid-2016, CSPs forecast that the penetration of 1G gear will experience a steep drop from 39 percent to 13 percent, while 10G will experience strong growth from 36 percent to 47. 100G adoption will occur from there, experiencing the greatest increase from 2017 to 2018.

What’s important to keep in mind is the fact that SDN and NFV will rely heavily on hardware acceleration, which is driving the development and deployment of a new class of virtualized hardware acceleration platforms and appliances. The functions that NEPs and CSPs see as the most desirable areas are:

  • Acceleration of virtual functions (57 percent)
  • Acceleration of virtual switching (53 percent)
  • Acceleration of virtual appliances (43 percent)

It makes perfect sense that within a 12-24 month window, 73 percent of network operators plan to deploy virtualized appliances, and 71 percent of vendors plan to develop and deliver virtualized appliances to market within this same window. In fact, the first wave of virtualized management and security appliance functions has already been developed and deployed.

Applications that have been around a while—including intrusion prevention systems, firewalls, network and performance monitoring—have already been virtualized by about a third of respondents. The top three technical challenges for carriers in the survey were security, throughput, and latency, which is not surprising, considering the looming 100G tide ready to break on their shores.

However, performance remains a sticking point. Today’s virtualized solutions are struggling to contend with 10G speeds. 100G means 10 times more data delivered 10 times faster with 10 times less time to react. Can the current performance trajectory deliver this kind of improvement by 2018?

Fast-tracking the Network

Only recently have physical appliances able to support 100G been developed and deployed. The challenge for 2018 is to successfully virtualize these physical appliance solutions and still maintain the same performance and reliability.

Fortunately, the vast majority of appliances are already based on the same standard server platforms forming the infrastructure basis for NFV, and 100G appliances are no exception. The issue is ensuring that the right data input/output capacity is available to handle 100G speeds and data volumes when making the transition to NFV infrastructures.

The data uncovered by the Heavy Reading study demonstrates that CSPs and NEPs are clear about what they need to stay ahead of the data growth curve. They understand the value offered by traditional hardware appliances, but also see the benefits of using virtualized appliances to help them optimize the performance of their NFV-enabled virtualized networks.

These providers are clear about which network functions should be first in line for virtualization, and what virtualized appliances must support. In this hyperconnected world, time will soon tell which CSPs and NEPs will be able to keep up the pace.

For more information on how new networking and technology trends are transforming networks, check out the free research report Catching the Networking Wave, available 100% free to registered Aberdeen community members. 

Daniel JosephDaniel Joseph Barry is VP Positioning and Chief Evangelist at Napatech and has over 20 years’ experience in the IT and Telecom industry. Prior to joining Napatech in 2009, Dan Joe was Marketing Director at TPACK, a leading supplier of transport chip solutions to the Telecom sector.  From 2001 to 2005, he was Director of Sales and Business Development at optical component vendor NKT Integration (now Ignis Photonyx), following various positions in product development, business development, and product management at Ericsson. Dan Joe joined Ericsson in 1995 from a position in the R&D department of Jutland Telecom (now TDC). He has an MBA and a BSc degree in Electronic Engineering from Trinity College Dublin.

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