Software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are prized for their flexibility and scalability. By untethering network configuration from network hardware, the enterprise converts its network from a rigid construct that inhibits advanced services to a dynamic environment that supports and enhances them.
In most cases, these virtual networks are designed around fabric-based architectures that foster connectivity between multiple, diverse endpoints, but they can also be used to pool bandwidth for key applications like video and rich-media delivery. To date, most organizations have used these services sparingly because the fixed networks required to support them are expensive and difficult to maintain. In software, however, they can start to make major contributions to data processes and the productivity of the knowledge workforce.
One way the enterprise can learn how SDN/NFV can support video delivery is to see how it is being applied to commercial services like cable and broadcast television. Rémi Beaudoui, VP of marketing at French video systems developer ATEME, says simply replacing an expensive video encoder with a virtual machine allows even high-quality video systems to be defined by their function, not by hardware capabilities. In the bargain, both opex and capex are greatly reduced, and video networks can be supported by the same infrastructure and operating systems that govern IT. For a cable provider or telco, of course, the goal is to deliver video to consumers, but the enterprise can easily shift the focus to video chat and B2B communications.
Already, many carriers are pushing SDN and NFV onto their networks in part to provide greater support for high-bandwidth applications in the cloud, says Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Chris Wilder. The field for innovative microservices that leverage voice, video and messaging is wide open, and carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon are already capable of providing scale-up virtual networks with full security and visibility without encountering bandwidth bottlenecks or performance degradation. At the same time, there is a growing field of development platforms and integration solutions aimed at bringing advanced cloud-based applications and services of all types to market.
One of the most recent is Avaya’s partnership with FatPipe to develop an integrated SDN/SD-WAN solution that will support both narrow- and wide-band unified communications (UC) across geodistributed data environments. The system combines Avaya’s Fabric Connect and SDN Fx platforms with FatPipe’s SD-WAN technology to support high-quality real-time VoIP, video and data sessions. The key benefit to a converged local and wide-area system is the seamless hand-over of data streams between the two architectures, which maintains signal integrity across the network and provides for dynamic re-routing for optimal resource utilization. The system also supports both OpenStack and OpenDaylight development through Avaya Fabric Connect, along with FatPipe’s zero-touch branch deployment, granular visibility and centralized policy management.
One of the key applications for emerging virtual networks is video collaboration, says James Dartnell of Computer New Middle East. Many organizations already support live video chat on a limited basis, either on wired or wireless networks, but with virtual routing and bandwidth allocation the practice can become much more widespread and versatile. Raw bandwidth is actually quite plentiful across the globe, even in traditionally underserved areas, but the ability to allocate it quickly and easily, and without the high cost of over-provisioning for what are usually short-term use cases, has been daunting. With virtual networks, video collaboration can be extended to more of the workforce without driving costs to unsustainable levels.
If past is prologue, of course, it won’t be long before users become accustomed to ubiquitous basic video services and start demanding more advanced applications. Already, formats like 4K and 8K Ultra HD are on the rise, as well as fully immersive virtual reality environments. And at some point the need to archive the growing volumes of video content will emerge as well.
These are all challenges to be dealt with, but in the meantime virtual networks have removed the key roadblocks to establishing a video-friendly communications infrastructure for the knowledge workforce. And the easier it is for people to communicate, the more apt they will be to arrive at creative solutions for seemingly intractable problems.