2015 will be the year for software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), according to many industry analysts and influencers. Having gained more and more attention over the past year, SDN and NFV will be the next game changing technology, especially within the telecommunications industry. In fact, a recent poll by Light Reading found that NFV/SDN and 5G were the biggest topics at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. And in fact they were, according to the 90,000+ attendees and 1,900 exhibitors. Why? With the rise of IoT and more and more devices and applications connecting to the network, telcos have been forced to find new ways to make their networks more flexible and programmable to support this increasing need for data and bandwidth. While Global IP traffic has increased more than fivefold in the past five years, and will increase threefold over the next five years, telecoms services revenues fell by 1.2% in 2013 to $1.62 trillion, and grew less than 1% in 2014, according to estimates by research firm Gartner. But the question is: how far and how fast will these technologies really evolve by the end of this year? Will they become the de facto network architecture by December as some claim? Or is the technology still in its infancy? Below are my seven predictions of how NFV and SDN will mature this year:

1. NFV will evolve in 3 key ways by the end of 2015 – This year will be focused on 1) developing more proof-of-concepts (PoCs) and trials, 2) building alliances, and 3) defining standards through Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) and other industry groups between the different subsystems of NFV, such as Virtual Network Functions (VNF), Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI), and Management and Orchestration (MANO), as well as for certain functions such as dynamic service chaining.

2. Proof-of-concepts and trials will grow – There are currently 34 PoCs out there by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and this will likely increase to over 50 by the end of 2015. There are also some trials, but don’t expect to see many telcos moving beyond PoCs and a few trials this year. This is because telcos generally take a phased approach to adopting new technologies – PoC to field trials to deployment – in order to ensure critical features such as functionality, security, performance and availability are solidly proven before they move to deployment.

3. Tier-1s will likely be the first to move beyond trials – Tier-1 telcos such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and NTT are generally the most active in the industry when it comes to adopting new technologies because they have the most resources at their disposal. I expect them to be the first to move beyond the PoC and trial stages, which will enable the smaller tier-2 telcos to learn from their roll-out.

4. Mobile service functions and Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) will be the first network functions to be virtualized in production – While there are PoCs and trials that involve Evolved Packet Core (EPC) network functions such as 4G gateways, policy control and enforcement functions, I expect CPE (such as Stateful Firewall, VPN, WLAN Controllers and NAT) will be the first to move toward virtualization.

5. Stateful high availability and fault tolerance need to be addressed before NFV & SDN become mainstream – There was a time when the telecom network was considered rock solid – no dropped calls were allowed and dial-tone was as reliable as the sun rising in the East every day. But with the rise of mobile phones and VoIP, our industry has become complacent – some people now accept that it is okay to “drop and reconnect” a voice call. However, with the plan to virtualize stateful firewalls and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) mitigation solutions – and future IoT devices to send and receive critical status and state information over the network – the need for service continuity and stateful fault tolerance will become even more critical for telcos. This can be achieved by providing software-based stateful fault tolerance and automated resiliency in NFV/SDN telco clouds. Telcos will also need a total availability platform where applications can be deployed, monitored and controlled as fault-tolerant, high availability and/or general availability, with the capability to dynamically adjust the level of availability based on the needs of each application.

6. NFV & SDN will become mainstream in 2 years – In 2016, we should expect to see tier-1 telcos begin to deploy NFV/SDN in production. At Mobile World Congress 2015, John Donovan of AT&T reiterated his commitment to convert 75% of the AT&T Network to NFV and SDN by 2020. For this to happen we expect NFV to become a mainstream practice in 2017-2018. Also by then, the tier-2 telcos and other companies interested in deploying NFV will have evaluated the ROI and best practices of the early adopters.

7. OpenStack and KVM will become the cloud platform for telcos – At Mobile World Congress last week, I met with many telcos that have already embraced OpenStack technology because it is OpenSource-based and because of the NFV ecosystem and large vendors that are already engaged with it today. It is clear that OpenStack and KVM is the future for telco providers, but one of the issues that has been holding them back from large scale deployment is the need for stateful high availability and fault tolerance. Stratus’ software-based solution is addressing this need.

Although SDN and NFV are certainly growing, and we will likely see some telco deployments by next year, there are still challenges that need to be addressed before adoption becomes mainstream. Like with any new technology, the kinks need to be worked out and a proven business case demonstrating ROI needs to be in place – and that will take some time. But there is no doubt that 2015 represents another step forward for NFV and SDN. We’re witnessing a monumental shift in networking and it will be interesting to see how this technology evolves over the coming years. At Stratus Technologies, we’re delighted to be part of a community that is making SDN and NFV a reality by enabling stateful fault tolerance and automated resiliency in NFV and SDN telco clouds (without code changes to the virtualized network functions). And our high efficiency de-clustered capacity and redundancy approach is clearly seen to be advantageous over the traditional 1+1 redundancy approach that requires two servers to perform the exact same role.