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Technical Details

Industry and academic leaders started the NFV/SDN movement to change the economics and complexity of network innovation.  The Open Network Foundation[2],[3] and the Open Network Research Center[4] were established to research and define SDN and to create an open market for network control functions that can be tightly coupled with the changing technical requirements of specific applications and services.  Recently other industry research groups[5] [6] and standards bodies[7],[8] have emerged to address the issues of programming languages and virtualized computing infrastructures for the implementation, composition and management of these new network control applications.

Virtualized networking to support vast data centers was the initial commercial force driving SDN/NFV, with network switch, hypervisor, and cloud service vendors driving the pace and the direction of innovation.  The realization of the power and potential of “opening up” networking platforms and enabling the seamless integration of programmable networks and applications set off a series of billion dollar acquisitions[9] and triggered even broader efforts by the industry to commoditize network hardware platforms[10] and software environments[11].   Today the potential applications software defined virtual networks range from global telecommunications[12] to completely software defined data centers[13].  Current market analyses project the NFV/SDN market to reach $100B by 2020[14].

NIST’s Role:

While this revolution in networking industry has great potential, there are numerous test and measurement challenges that must be met to ensure that SDNs are robust and secure enough to meet the mission critical requirements of our information-centric society.  To date, the potential of dramatic cost reductions coupled with rapid feature innovation is driving aggressive early deployment of NFV/SDN technologies well before their behavioral properties are well understood.   The existing technologies for distributed routing and switching control protocols (that NFV/SDN technologies will displace) are the result of decades of research and development experience focused on robustness, security and scalability.  Failure to devote significant effort to development of the measurement techniques necessary to characterize, predict and control the robustness and security properties of software defined networks could result in significant technical and market-place failures going forward.     NIST is uniquely positioned to address these issues for the networking industry.

Technical Approach

The NIST program will focus on the robustness, safety and security of NFV/SDN technology and its potential disruptive application to national priority initiatives.  The following key activities/outcomes are planned for the first 3 years:

  • Measurement Science for NFV/SDN – NIST will research and develop the measurement science necessary to meaningfully characterize and test the behavior, performance and robustness of emerging NFV/SDN technologies.  Our particular focus will be metrics and techniques to measure the safety and security of NFV/SDN networks at scale and the ability of such networks to meet strict performance requirements. Specific outcomes will include:
    • Design of Programmable Measurement Extensions for SDN
    • A Complex Systems Analysis of SDN
    • Software Verification of Open vSwitch
  • Distributed NFV/SDN Testbed - To meaningfully explore SDN technologies we must develop the capability to experiment, test, model and measure designs and implementations.  NIST will establish the ability to conduct large-scale simulations, emulations and live experiments with NFV/SDN technologies.  ITL will leverage existing capabilities for large-scale network simulation and emulation experiments to this effort and will establish a NIST presence in national scale distributed testbeds for demonstrating the results of NFV/SDN R&D.  Specific outcomes will include:
    • Establishment of a hybrid physical / emulation SDN testbed at NIST
    • Linking of NIST’s testbed with GENI, Internet2, and ESNet national scale testbeds
  • Disruptive NFV/SDN Applications – Leveraging the capabilities above, NIST will examine the potential for NFV/SDN technologies to contribute significantly to other high priority programs.   NIST will explore two such domains in the first two years: software-defined Internet of Things (IoT) networking and novel uses of SDN for network security.  Specific outcomes will include:
    • Design of Policy Based Security Automation for IoT Networks using SDN
    • Design of DDoS Detection and Mitigation used Programmable SDN Monitoring
  • Acquisition and Deployment Guidance – Finally, NIST has been approached by several other government agencies and industry partners to develop acquisition tools and secure deployment guidance for emerging NFV/SDN technologies.  Specific outcomes will include:
    • An Acquisition Profile for NFV/SDN Technologies
    • Guidelines for the Secure Deployment of NFV/SDN Technologies

Network Function Virtualization and Software Defined Networking is a dramatic shift in the way network technology will be defined, developed and deployed in the future.  NIST must develop the capability to contribute measurement science to emerging standards in this area.  In addition there is a need to explore the potential application of this new paradigm to other network-centric initiatives of national importance.  By focusing on IoT, NIST will explore the potential for NFV/SDN to be a disruptive technology in initiatives such as public safety, energy conservation, transportation, and e-Healthcare.


[1] Internet Matters: The Net’s Sweeping Impact on Growth, Jobs and Prosperity;

[2] Open Networking Foundation (ONF) ;

[3] ONF Membership;

[4] Open Network Research Consortium (ONRC);

[5] IRTF Network Function Virtualization Research Group (NFVRG);

[6] IRTF Software-Defined Networking Research Group (SDNRG);

[7] ETSI Network Functions Virtualization;

[8] ETSI NFV Membership;

[9] VMware to Acquire Nicira;

[10] Open Network Linux;

[11] Open vSwitch;

[12] ATT: A Network Built in Software;

[13] Openstack: Open Source Software for Creating Private and Public Clouds;

[14] 2015 SDxCentral SDN and NFV Market Size Report;

Created September 9, 2020, Updated April 5, 2022