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Article

What CIOs Need to Know Today About SDN

SDN is a dynamic network architecture that transforms traditional network backbones into intelligent service-delivery platforms

  1. SDN is not just today's fad or buzzword.

SDN is a new, dynamic network architecture that transforms traditional network backbones into more intelligent service-delivery platforms. IT leaders can use SDN as a tool to change the way they do business. For example, enterprises can foster closer relationships with their customers by offering greater online access to select data over the enterprise network. A financial services firm can give large corporate customers the opportunity for third-party reporting, governance, or even allow analytics firms to directly access enterprise credit card transactions, obviating the need for intermediate sites and cumbersome manual process steps that are needed to provide sufficient multi-level security. An SDN would create virtual network partitions governed by stringent and limited access policies, and security to decrease unauthorized access.

  1. SDN enables the cloud and aids the large enterprise transitioning to IT-as-a-Service

Today, large enterprises typically use cloud services for email, application hosting or non-critical storage backup to cloud data centers, which are accessed over low -speed IP networks that statistically multiplex data as the network permits. Over the next few years, enterprise will leverage the cloud for distributed database access of increasing amounts of data and for both platform and infrastructure services. As the use of the cloud becomes more prominent, IT will need a more flexible and intelligent network to capitalize on the potential that the cloud represents. 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. SDN makes this happen.

  1. SDN's shift to automation streamlines labor costs

SDN enables network automation, which significantly reduces provisioning times and configuration errors, as well as decreasing operations costs. Automating the network is essential towards virtualizing the network - expanding network capacity and efficiency while improving revenue potential and service innovation. SDN will help IT managers improve and simplify network operations and allow them to tailor their network to specific applications and IT requirements. According to a 2011 CIO Insight survey, automation could eliminate up to 25% of IT labor hours.

  1. SDN offers a way to build simpler and more customizable networks

In an SDN architecture, network intelligence is logically centralized to offer unprecedented control of forwarding behavior in the underlying network elements through open, programmatic interfaces. By maintaining a global view of network topology and configuration, granular, flow-based network control may be achieved that is abstracted from the hardware through OpenFlow. In addition, configuration changes may be made without directly accessing individual network elements, significantly streamlining operations. With the unprecedented programmability, automation, and network control that SDN offers, enterprises and service providers will be able to build highly scalable and flexible networks that readily adapt to changing business and end user needs.

  1. SDN paves the way for a more flexible security architecture, lowering overall costs

Traditional approaches to network security are predicated upon providing physical protection for a static perimeter. SDN offers the potential to reshape the network security landscape by providing a more granular, and service-oriented means of managing increasing threats brought on by mobility and BYOD, and the rapid expansion of cloud and virtualization services.

SDN leverages the flow-based paradigm, allowing for user-level policies to be enforced no matter where users physically access the network. 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.

  1. SDN's "centralized control" model enables Network Virtualization

Network virtualization involves dividing available bandwidth into multiple slices that can then interconnect virtualized compute and/or storage resources throughout the enterprise. An SDN architecture allows networks to be flattened, consolidated and automated, all of which help simplify operations. Capacity can be increased by simply adding (or upgrading) network elements. SDN helps to streamline network provisioning and configuration, which translates to faster deployment of services and applications. Infrastructure management is also facilitated through coordinated, in-service software upgrades as well patch and version management.

  1. The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is working aggressively to push Open (vs. Proprietary) SDN

The ONF - a who's who from industry - are working to develop and standardize SDN architecture and best practices. OpenFlow is the first ONF SDN standard that provides an open interface between the Control and Data planes. By abstracting the software providing control from the hardware providing the forwarding, a common control layer can control multiple vendors' equipment simultaneously, and concurrently with existing equipment running today's Layer 2 and Layer 3 protocols.

  1. New working groups and vendor solutions are emerging every day to tackle SDN

One of the newest working groups within ONF, the Optical Transport Working Group, is chartered with extending the benefits of SDN and OpenFlow to the optical network domain. Another working group, the Migration working group, will produce methods to migrate from a traditional network, like a data center or a wide area network, to SDN. Primarily driven by end users, the Migration working group members are considering various deployment scenarios, obstacles to overcome, and requirements to realize the benefits of SDN while protecting the huge investment in the installed base.

  1. SDN enables change beyond the data center.

To date, the focus for SDN has arguably been in the data center, motivated by rapid growth and adoption of cloud services. Over the past year, SDN has gained momentum in the WAN, with major carriers and customers alike actively evaluating the benefits and use cases for SDN throughout their networks. With applications like Data Center Interconnection, Hybrid Cloud (i.e., Public to Private Cloud) networking, and Big Data applications spanning the globe, SDN enables an end-to-end, highly flexible solution offering agility, differentiation, and overall cost reduction.

  1. Software growth will be steady, not spikey.

The SDN market is expected to surpass $35 billion in the next five years, far higher than previously reported, according to new research by Plexxi, SDNCentral and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Despite the shift to SDN, hardware will continue to play a significant role in the network infrastructure. It is estimated that by 2018, 46 percent of overall datacenter network spending will be on SDN-enabled optical, switching and routing hardware while a slightly higher number - 49 percent - will be spent on non-SDN-enabled datacenter optical switching and routing. This is not surprising, and hardware and software will continue to co-exist in SDN.

More Stories By Marc Cohn

Marc Cohn is a Senior Director of Market Development at Ciena Corporation, where he is focused on Ciena’s strategy for Software Defined Networking (SDN). He is also the Vice-Chair of the Market Education committee for the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).

For over 20 years, Marc has drove and promoted successful communications products for systems, software, semiconductor, and services firms serving the Data Communications and Telecommunications markets. Prior to joining Ciena, he held senior marketing and product management roles with IP Infusion, Micrel, Amdocs, Lucent Technologies, Alidian Networks, and International Network Services.

Marc earned a MS EE degree from the University of Southern California where he was a Hughes Fellow, a BS EE degree in Electrical Engineering and was the first Computer Engineering graduate from the University of Missouri.

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Most Recent Comments
Michael Bushong 06/20/13 11:27:00 AM EDT

It's rare that you see these articles pointing out most or all of the emerging SDN trends - automation, DevOps, optical, WAN, Open.

I do think that the discussion about Open and Closed probably needs a bit more precision. Open can mean a lot of things:

Standards
Interoperability
Interchangeability
Open Source
Access

I think the focus has been on Standards, but in an emerging space, Standards will lag. The real desire is to make things interoperable to enable heterogeneous environments and interchangeability to prevent lock-in.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)
Plexxi