SDN Will Change The Nature Of IT SLAs
"There's been lots of talk about the potential for software-defined networking to result in operational flexibility and cost savings, but there is another unsung benefit of SDN -- the ability to optimize next-generation IT service-level agreements (SLAs)," said Brandon Hoff, director of product management at Emulex.
SLA monitoring through SDN could make it much easier for IT to detect network- and application-level performance bottlenecks before users detect these problems, said Amir Peles, vice president of technology for Radware.
"The SDN then allows the immediate provisioning of resources around cloud locations and the transparent network diversion of transactions to these locations to guarantee the best user experience," Peles said. "Eventually, SDN provides for better monetization of the network to support SLA."
SDN Will Raise The Bar On Hardware Resource Efficiency
While industry watchers don't necessarily agree about how SDN will change the network hardware pricing model, many concur that organizations will get more bang for their hardware buck through SDN.
"What once required space in a rack along with associated power and cooling can now be accomplished with software running on fewer general-purpose computers," said Steve Riley, technical director for the CTO office at Riverbed, explaining that hardware will be able to support a higher workload concentration. "Significant cost savings come from consolidating physical resources while increasing the quantity of available upper-layer services."
SDN Will Finally Scale The Network For Virtualization Nirvana
In its recent Tech Visions annual report, Accenture explained that now that the industry has virtualized all the disparate pieces of the data center, the software-defined network is the last step to make the connections between these pieces dynamically configurable.
"The data center's resources may be dynamic, but the communications between them are still static and brittle," Accenture wrote. "SDN frees applications from having to maintain knowledge of the changing network."
In the same vein, SDN better supports cloud deployments.
"A cloud-ready network must be able to dynamically respond when IT needs to move large amounts of data, without bottlenecks, security holes or data loss," said Marc Cohn, senior director for market development at Ciena. "SDN makes this happen."
SDN Will Drive Network Programmability
One of key value propositions of SDN is the network abstraction that in turn allows for the kind of network programmability that accelerates automation.
"If network capabilities could be properly abstracted, IT administrators could design networks and define policies in IT-centric and application-friendly terms," said Houman Modarres of Nuage Networks. "Once designed, they could apply them many times, and enforce appropriate policies throughout their datacenter assets."
SDN does just that by instantiating connectivity in line with policies, he said.
"SDN provides the foundation for services chaining, a method of programmatically linking networking functions as they are needed, allowing developers to incorporate networking functions directly into applications," said Riley of Riverbed.
SDN Will Transform Data Center Management
SDN will prove to be the lynchpin of data center management, predicts Mike Johnson, director of the architecture solutions, communication and collaboration practice at Logicalis U.S.
"If you can separate the management of your network or, in fact, the entire data center from the actual devices residing in it so that the management is making decisions on behalf of the devices, you can better control your entire data center from that single location," he said.
SDN Will Drive Up Service Agility
Most experts agree that the way SDN will truly transform networking and IT in general is through its potential upsides in service agility.
"Rather than programming switches and routers to define a service, network operators will define services in an application layer that interacts with a unified control plane for all networking elements," said Chris Koeneman, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for the Bluesocket Business Division of ADTRAN. "Network operators will be able to make changes quickly and finely tune services."
Paul Unbehagen, chief architect for Avaya Networking, said the evolution will make it easier for IT to spin up new applications in minutes rather than hours, days or more.
"It about evolving from what today is a largely manual process to an automated process across various teams to increase IT agility and efficiency and drive down operating expenses," he said.
SDN Will Revolutionize IT Security
The greater granularity in network flow control could stand to completely change the IT security model.
"SDN leverages the flow-based paradigm, allowing for user-level policies to be enforced no matter where users physically access the network," said Cohn of Ciena. "Suspicious flows can be rapidly redirected for further security processing, while these processing demands can be relaxed by alleviating the need for all flows in the network to be examined."
SDN Will Increase Network Visibility For The Dev Team
SDN has the potential to untie developers' hands more than ever before.
" TCP's ancient packet drops-based 'congestion detection' will eventually make way for the new Open API-based global network state-aware application development methodologies," said Karthi Subramaniam, chief software architect for ADARA Networks. "Applications won't treat the network as the unlimited and unconstrained supply of connectivity resource."
Whereas in traditional models where no one really knows if applications are impacting the network or if there are other factors at play, SDN will provide greater insight into application performance issues, said Eve Griliches, director of solutions marketing of BTI Systems.
"We're at the point now where we can pull out the data, do a little data mining, and as one customer said, look at 'empirical evidence,' not someone's guess on what the application might be doing to the network," Griliches said. "Once this happens, we can program and automate the network so it's tuned to what the applications require. Those two processes really need to take place immediately."
SDN Will Trigger Power Shifts In IT
"In a highly interdependent and orchestrated IT environment, decisions that used to be made in isolation will now need to be considered more broadly," said Michael Bushong, vice president of marketing for Plexxi. "This changes the decision-making process, which impacts the budgeting process and ultimately the organizational boundaries."
"Applications at layer 7 can interact and automate all the way down to layer 2, completely redefining the mindset of network engineering," said Tim ("TK") Keanini, CTO for Lancope. "Keep in mind that it is also a potential transfer of power; networking with SDN moves the traffic engineering out of the hands of network engineering and in to the hands of application developers."
SDN Will Require A New Set Of Networking Skills
At the same time, many argue that it's highly unlikely that SDN will reduce the relevancy of networking professionals.
"But having a single point where decisions can be made still requires someone to understand what those decisions are," said Plexxi's Bushong. "There will be a new type of skill that needs to be cultivated -- someone who can architect how workloads span multiple pieces of infrastructure and can guide how those workloads ought to be treated under varying decisions. This workload architect doesn't exist in today's more siloed environments."
The more automated the network becomes through automation, the more IT will value skills in network architecture and design.
"Humans can focus on challenges more worthy of their intelligence, such as designing beautifully intricate enterprise IT systems that ultimately drive growing businesses toward success," said Yuri Rabover, co-founder of VMTurbo.