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While much of the initial interest in software-defined networking (SDNs) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) software is driven by a desire to reduce costs, it looks like a crucial need for more agility may be speeding up IT service providers’ adoption of these emerging technologies.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has seen a marked shift in the rate at which telecommunication carriers and other IT service providers are planning to roll out SDNs and NFVs, Rolf Eberhardt, HPE’s business lead for operating support systems. In the age of the cloud, many of these organizations are under pressure to make various network services more accessible via self-service portals and APIs, he explained.

To facilitate that transition, the company rolled out HPE Service Director, which Eberhardt said delivers a layer of orchestration software that will make it simpler to provision and manage both NFV software and traditional network infrastructure. Despite all the enthusiasm for network-functions virtualization, Eberhardt noted that it’s unlikely anyone will see an all-NFV environment any time soon or, for that matter, if ever.

According to Technology Business Research (TBR), SDN and NFV technologies together can reduce the amount of time it takes to provision network resources by 95 percent. At a time when a virtual machine can be spun up in a matter of seconds, IT organizations still often wind up waiting weeks, sometimes months, for IT service providers to provision associated network resources. The end result is that despite the flexibility provided by virtual machines, the overall agility of the IT environment has not improved much.

By and large, SDNs and NFVs are expected to manifest themselves as commercial services in 2017.But if Eberhardt is right, the timetable for many of those services may be closer to the end of this year or the beginning of next. In either case, solution providers should start gearing up now to jump on opportunities surrounding network services that not too long ago would not have been thought possible, much less feasible.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.