• 02/12/2014
    12:06 PM
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Software-Defined Networking's 3 Biggest Benefits

SDN may sound abstract, but the technology is on target to provide concrete advantages to network infrastructure -- from increased global connectivity to better content delivery.

The concept of the software-defined network (SDN) initially caused some confusion in IT, but the picture gets clearer the more we learn. Similar to network virtualization, SDN allows for the direct network-related abstraction of services. This abstraction of services can be accomplished on both logical as well as physical infrastructures, but is not actually defined by specific physical devices or logical components.

How will SDN affect the future of network infrastructure? Let's take a look at the biggest benefits.

1. Complete cloud abstraction
The cloud model of computing is here to stay. But, like all technologies, the cloud is evolving. Driven by both the enterprise and the end-user, cloud computing is becoming a more unified infrastructure. Users are able to access content that spans numerous environments via hybrid platforms that extend the datacenter infrastructure out to them.

At the core of this design are the networking components that interconnect and support these massive datacenter platforms. Future networking services will unify cloud processes even more, making hybrid cloud creation much easier.

2. Intelligent global connections
SDN can create very intelligent and globally connected environments. It can also help with load-balancing cloud and datacenter infrastructures. SDN already provides global traffic management by sending traffic to appropriate datacenters based on network logic. Moving forward, SDN will allow architects to create even more fluid automation for datacenter traffic flow. Efforts like this of will help reduce downtime, increase data resiliency, and make disaster recovery planning more effective.

3. Near-flawless content delivery
Users are demanding more content to an ever increasing number of devices. Furthermore, they are asking for this content in high definition. Organizations like Netflix have achieved success building intelligent edge networks that cache rich content closer to the user. Advancements in streaming technologies also allow for rich media to be transmitted live via the cloud. By implementing SDN, network operators will be able to increase network responsiveness, providing a near-flawless experience for the user.

Software-defined technologies are already creating new ways to abstract resources at the enterprise level, and products are coming onto the market that allow IT departments to benefit from SDN. For example, VMware's network virtualization capabilities at the cloud and hypervisor layer can traverse large networks to deliver local and hybrid cloud services.

As an alternate approach, Cisco sells its line of Nexus switches, which support the upcoming Application Centric Infrastructure SDN platform. Effectively, this provides SDN on physical devices that are capable of very complicated network configurations spanning many datacenter nodes.

However you choose to begin exploring SDN, it's an exciting time to be in the datacenter and infrastructure world. Moving forward, the datacenter and its core components will continue to play a critical part in data delivery. Technologies like SDN help to optimize the networking layer of operations, allowing enterprises the capability to do more with the modern infrastructure environment.


Workflow automation, application-network collaboration?

The primary thing SDN is addressing is workflow automation. Because we manage networks through pinpoint control on a device-by-device basis, things like edge policy are very manual and extremely costly. SDN's major objective is to provide a central point for managing this, effectively automating a lot of the manual parts of managing a network today.

Beyond that, the controller can then add intelligence because it has a global view of the network. This means that the actual behavior can be tuned.

But tuned to what? To application requirements. SDN allows the network to optimize based on what applications need. This happens through abstraction, but not just cloud abstraction. Abstraction of the network, so that specifying requirements isn't an exercise in specifying network configuration.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)


Re: Workflow automation, application-network collaboration?

I must learn to get to these topics before @mbushong does, because he says lots of things I want to say, only he says them better ;-)

At some point we'll agree as an industry whether SDN is the right acronym to play with, or if it's too narrow to truly encompass the scope of network interaction in a (lord help me) Software Defined Data Center.