The recurring theme of the CommTech show in Toronto was the Software Defined Network, SDN, and the complementary Network Functions Virtualization, NFV.

At a high level, SDN is an emerging architecture that decouples the network control and forwarding functions.  This enables network control to become directly programmable and the underlying infrastructure to be abstracted.   This should allow the service providers to achieve the holy grail of fast and easy end-to-end provisioning, monitoring, and billing of services.

But achieving this utopia will require quite a bit of hard work.  The SDN forum developed the OpenFlow protocol, currently at Release 1.4, to allow the interoperability and the provisioning across multivendor networks.  But the actual results seem to be lagging the promise.

Although many vendors at CommTech talked (at length) about their plans to implement SDN, including Ciena, Telco Systems, Alianza, and Alcatel-Lucent, no one is ready with a multivendor OpenFlow implementation today or anytime soon.  Only Cyan was ready to discuss a multi-vendor SDN  implementation with their Blue Planet management software.  But they have been developing the interfaces for the other vendors’ hardware, rather than relying on the OpenFlow defined interfaces.

Whether SDN eventually lives up to all of the hype, or whether it morphs into something different is too early to tell.  But I have been around in the telecom industry far too long to have seen many open standards fall by the wayside.