NFV Will Team With SDNs to Transform Cable Nets

SDN and NFV: Cable Network Game-Changers The full impact of software-defined networks (SDNs) and network functions virtualization (NFV) won't be felt until far into the future. But in the long term, the two techniques - especially when employed in tandem - are game changers.

The ramifications of the techniques are so deep and fundamental that MSOs are playing with fire if they are not already deep in research and development mode. “It is probably accurate to say that both SDN and NFV still are in their early stages,” said Tom Cloonan, ARRIS’ chief strategy officer. “They are under study and analysis inside operators, vendors and at CableLabs. They all are trying to figure out how it makes the most sense to use them.”

In short, SDN separates the data and control plans. In essence, that means the bits that determine where data is going are segregated from the payloads themselves. This allows management of the streams to be centralized and links to be far more flexibly and creatively set up. The nature of the data flows – for instance, the appropriate quality of service (QoS) threshold and level of security – can be fluidly changed in real time.

NFV takes advantages of the explosion of computer horsepower and software capabilities to replace purpose-built hardware platforms and favor of commodity servers running specialized software. Whether a server in the field acts, for instance, as a load balancer or a router is determined by software.

The two concepts are earth shattering, at least as far as network planning goes. The overused illustrative technique of comparing broadband to a physical highway once again is useful. In a traditional network, each car has a driver who is wedded to a specific route (representative in this example of the control plane). There is no flexibility. The driver delivers the payload (a passenger, a member of the data plane) to the destination. If there is a traffic jam or a drawbridge stuck in the up position, the packet will be late. The driver and the passenger are joined at the hip.

In an SDN environment, the driver leaves the car and moves to a virtual control tower, where unique directions are given to all the cars on the road simultaneously. Not only has the driver been promoted to a dispatcher, but the decisions made at that higher perspective can take into account ambient conditions: Is it wise to take a longer route that bypasses a bad traffic jam? Is a quick but treacherous one-lane highway appropriate for a car carrying a very valuable and sensitive passenger? In fact, shortcuts unavailable in the traditional environment could be found and temporary adjustments made to give certain roads attributes that they normally lack.

To take the analogy a bit further, NFV deals with the nature of the passenger. Once the data arrives at the commodity server, will the nature of that passenger turn the virtual device in a load balancer, a firewall, a security application, a CCAP or a platform serving another function?

Insiders say that SDNs are being tested by cable operators and will have real world impact before NFV. In a sense, however, a proto-NFV application already is available. Alon Bernstein, a distinguished engineer in the office of Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) cable access business unit’s CTO, said that network DVRs - in which the service in the home is delivered from the network - fits the definition of NFV.

Though NFV and SDN are discrete advances, they are tending, at least to some extent, to blend into each other. “They tend to go together practically speaking,” Bernstein said. “Even though they address different needs, we see them as working together .... Probably the only way to manage [NFV virtualized servers] is with an SDN, anyhow.”

Parental control often is cited as an early virtualized service – and example of how NFV and SDNs can work together. NFV makes it possible to centralize in the network a set of rules that enable different levels of parental control for subscribers’ homes. However, the job at that point is only half done, since the virtual server would have to send marching orders to hundreds of thousands or even millions of CPE devices.  

Adding SDN creates a scenario in which each set-top or gateway automatically queries the virtual server to ask if is okay for 11-year-old Jimmy and 5-year-old Susie to watch “Better Call Saul.”

Another early candidate for NFV treatment - one that is far more ambitious than parental control - is the converged cable access platform (CCAP). “The functions you will virtualize in a CCAP world include the functions of the cable control plane, IP MPLS, control and forwarding, subscriber management and video processing functions,” said Sachin Sathaye, the vice president of product strategy and marketing for ActiveVideo, a vendor of virtualized STBs.

Gainspeed, a company that is developing a virtualized CCAP, is a real-world illustration of how well the CCAP concept lends itself to NFV.

The cable industry is well-positioned in the NFV sector, according to observers. Cahit Akin, the CEO of Mushroom Networks, said the industry’s mentality is more in line with virtualized environments - both SDN and NFV - than the telephone companies. The telcos, he said, are accustomed to a one-to-one relationship between a network resource and a customer. Conversely, MSOs – who have built an empire on the shared resources inherent in the hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) approach – are more naturally open to virtualization. “From the get-go, cable operators have a different approach because they have the understanding of the management of a shared resource,” he said.

Mark Bieberich, the senior global marketing director at NetCracker Technology, suggests that there may be commercial developments of NFV in 12 to 18 months. “If anything, [cable operators] are slightly ahead of their telco brethren,” he said. “They are not as encumbered by legacy infrastructure, and the number of services they support are not as diverse. They tend to be more nimble.”

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

Related Articles

Cable ONE

2 More AZ Towns Get Cable ONE Gigabit

October 7, 2016

Cable ONE (NYSE:CABO) is expanding its GigaONE gigabit Internet footprin...


Comcast Launches Enterprise IoT Trial

October 6, 2016

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) announced machineQ, a business trial venture focu...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Enhancing Revenues by Mining Subscriber Data

Enhancing Revenues by Mining Subscriber Data

October 2016

Cable operators have long collected data on the operation of their networks. Such data has helped warn of impending problems or assisted in overcoming failur...

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.