Cloud. Big data. Mobile. Social networking. These are some of the core ideas driving the new generation of critical consumer and business applications — but do they really have the modern network infrastructure they need? The basic way networks are managed — even in an architecture like a cloud — has remained largely unchanged from a decade ago in that most network connections continue to be initiated, operated, and closed by technicians working at the hardware level, who oversee network devices such as switches, each managed in a proprietary way. Such an approach means that implementing any change in the way data flows from point A to point B is slower, more complex, more costly, and less secure than it should be.
A cloud, for instance, is less dynamic than it should be in allocating more bandwidth to services that need it due to workload spikes (such as social networking or big data). And those services in turn generate less value than they should. So increasingly, in a world where traditional networking approaches have become too complex, closed, and proprietary, forward-looking organizations are searching for a new way to centralize, accelerate, secure, and scale network management. That new way is software-defined networking (SDN) which is designed to solve just these challenges and even more!
Transforming the network for improved business agility
Software Defined Networking makes it easier for organizations to set up, manage, and scale virtual networks for faster delivery of cloud, analytics, mobile and social business services. The framework forms the foundation for next-generation networking to support next-generation applications. In fact, industry analysts predict that the SDN market will climb from $200 million this year to a stunning $35 billion in 2018. Think about that level of change — a market that escalates by more than two orders of magnitude in five short years, based on surging demand — and you begin to see just why SDN is so compelling
The premise of SDN is to provide an API interface to the network so that the network can be driven by applications, in a programmatic manner. The network can now become much more agile and responsive to the demands of the workloads they support. It is a whole new model, where instead of technicians managing individual assets on a device-by-device basis, they can manage networks end-to-end on a more abstract level, and specify the policies they want to the network to provide. The network now has a central control plane which implements these policies on the physical infrastructure dynamically. It is then much easier and faster to create policies to define and optimize everything that the network is used to accomplish. For instance, if a given service experiences a spike that requires more bandwidth, a policy can respond automatically by allocating more bandwidth in proportion to the spike, until the demand level falls again. And that policy will execute far more rapidly than if technicians had to make manual, physical changes to a series of network switches.
Additionally, SDN overlays help in decoupling the physical infrastructure from the logical network provisioning to enable a much smoother deployment of the technology over existing physical networks, eliminating the need to rip-and-replace legacy equipment.
SDN allow organizations to reduce complexity by abstracting the underlying infrastructure as they deploy new applications. The software and infrastructure cloud service providers are early adopters of this technology as their business model is built around highly scalable and agile infrastructure to accommodate strong application deployment. This clearly shows that SDN is emerging as one of the most disruptive advances that networks have seen in the past decade. So, are you ready to bring this revolution to your data center?
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STSM, Network Systems Architect
IBM Systems and Technology Group