Living and Working in an SDN World

Software defined networking's time is upon us, but what changes will SDN bring to the enterprise network?

By Arthur Cole | Posted Nov 20, 2015
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With SDN all but a fait accompli at this point, it seems the time is right to turn our attention away from building and deploying an abstract networking environment and towards the practical ramifications of living and working in one. We all know the change will be significant from today’s physical infrastructure, but how, exactly? And is it the kind of change that will truly revolutionize the enterprise, or will it simply swap out old problems for a bunch of new ones?

According to recent research, enterprise executives have about a year to figure this all out before SDN makes the transition from the test bed to production environments. IHS Infonectics recently issued its latest report on the SDN market and concluded that spending on technology and applications will double from 2014 to 2015 to top $1.4 billion. Research Director Cliff Grossner said SDN on the WAN saw significant growth in the first half of the year, while SDN LAN deployments will have moved from early adopter status to mainstream technology by 2017.

As far as utilizing SDN in production environments, Richard Thayer, IT Director for outsourcing firm OSG, asks what sort of capabilities we are talking about. In the first place, SDN makes it much easier to deploy advanced networking services like load balancing, firewalls and dynamic routing, particularly across multi-tenant or multi-project cloud architectures. But the real benefit here is the ability to centralize management and policy enforcement to allow a single network infrastructure to function in numerous different ways, providing higher levels of service to end users. And exposing load balancers and firewalls to an API stack ushers in the ability to switch from a normal network management to a Dev/Ops or Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) model, in which changes and upgrades can be implemented much more rapidly and effectively.

But how exactly does all of this manifest itself in the real world? According to ITBE’s Carl Weinschenk, SDN essentially changes the basic plumbing of IT and telecommunications networks by reworking the way they carry payload and management data, creating a highly fluid architecture in which the value of networking rises while costs diminish. This has some forward-thinkers like Ciena Corp. talking about smart cities, or smart enterprises, in which data and departmental silos are replaced by seamless, optical connectivity running on white box hardware. In this way, disparate data sites across wide geographic areas become as integrated as local server, storage and networking elements are in the datacenter of today.

Ultimately, however, the success or failure of SDN will come down to applications, just as with any other data architecture. Expect 2016 to be the year in which SDN applications reach critical mass, says Pica8 CEO James Liao, with solutions from HP’s App Store and turnkey configuration services from systems integrators like Synnex making it easier to deploy and utilize SDN on a wide scale. In essence, SDN allows the enterprise to devise a custom networking environment by simply requesting the appropriate policies and application sets to accomplish clearly defined goals. It sure beats building network infrastructure from scratch.

Of course, it will be hard to tell what SDN truly brings to the table until production deployments are firmly underway – kind of like you can’t tell if you really like broccoli until you try it. To be sure, there is a steep learning curve ahead, and at the outset at least, most organizations will likely deploy SDN environments that appear to function like current networks before venturing into the really esoteric stuff.

But once the capabilities of abstract networking become familiar, expect to see a radical reshaping of the entire enterprise data stack in relatively short order.

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