The Rise of Software-Defined Networking

  • SDNs allow applications to manipulate network services.

  • They introduce flexibility into the network and eliminate hardware lock-in.

  • The growth of SDNs will transform enterprise networking.

At the most basic level, software-defined networking is about replacing command line interfaces with a higher level of software that abstracts away the complexity of managing the underlying network infrastructure.

To one degree or another, the concept has been around for years. What has made SDNs a hot topic more recently is the shift to open architecture that makes it much simpler to deploy network services across a heterogeneous networking environment.

SDNs enable applications to request and manipulate network services in a way in which the network has actual state. This is accomplished by separating the control plane from the underlying network using an open controller. In the past, the network controller was always tightly coupled to proprietary network infrastructure.

Eliminating hardware lock-in

The most significant aspect of SDNs is the amount of flexibility they introduce into the networking environment. In a world where virtual machines can be provisioned in minutes, it can still take days or even weeks to provision network resources. SDN enables organizations to logically decouple the intelligence used to manage the network across multiple software-based controllers rather than relying on controller technology that is embedded in, for example, a router or a switch.

The Rise of Software-Defined Networking_Wide

The end result is not only eliminating potential lock-in at the hardware level, but allowing multiple software controllers to be used in tandem to simultaneously manage a broad array of network services that are no longer mapped to a specific piece of network infrastructure. In fact, controllers working in parallel with one another could “slice up” the management of network functions among them.

Because those controllers are based on software, they can scale simply by making additional commodity infrastructure available as needed. Perhaps best of all, managing those networks will be a lot easier, thanks the visibility this new generation of software controllers provides.

Finally, in addition to using southbound application programming interfaces (APIs) to manage heterogeneous network environments, software-based controllers can expose northbound APIs that developers can use to directly control network resources. This means that software-based controllers turn the network into a set of programmable resources.

The next step in SDNs

SDNs are already fairly common in data centers running virtual machines. Each virtual machine creates a virtual switch that needs to be managed. Those SDNs can then be used to create network overlays and other types of sophisticated virtual networks in near real time. The next step is to take the SDN concept and apply it to a carrier network operating at scale. Once that’s accomplished, the rate at which innovative network services can be rolled out will increase by several orders of magnitude.

new research report from Rayno Media says that once this transformation is complete, the SDN market will be worth well over $20 billion. Naturally, it will take a while for this transformation to come about. But, as it does, it’s clear that networking across the enterprise as we once knew it will never be the same again.

How do you think the rise or SDNs will impact your business?


Michael Vizard is an independent business writer and the author of this blog. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.

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