Looking Past SDN to the Cloud

Technology rarely develops in a vacuum. In nearly every case, the tools and systems that have benefitted mankind arose not just because they offered a revolutionary new way of doing things, but because they fit in with the larger forces that were already reshaping society. You can’t separate railroads from  industrialization or television from mass consumerism, for example.

So when we talk about the latest advances in enterprise networking, such as SDN, it’s impossible to view it without the context of cloud computing. As the macro trend reshaping the enterprise in general, the cloud is the framework within which SDN will first emerge and then flourish.

According to IDC, the next two years will see SDN make the transition from industry buzzword to working enterprise technology. The market is expected to grow from today’s $960 million or so to $8 billion by 2018, which represents about 90 percent annual growth. Much of this demand will come from enterprises looking to coordinate the flow of data between in-house and external resources, both of which will likely be operating on a cloud infrastructure within that time frame. Indeed, the most rapid uptake of SDN is likely to come from the cloud industry, given that it is generally working with more up-to-date systems and architectures and is already heavily invested in virtual infrastructure.

But this kind of interoperability is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Even a common SDN format like OpenFlow merely provides the means to exchange traffic flows across dynamic network architectures. The real management and automation will come from advanced software stacks like Real Status’ Hyperglance system, which offers advanced APIs that provide centralized control of both the service layers of Amazon Web Services and OpenStack, plus the leading SDN controller platforms like OpenDaylight and HP’s Virtual Application Networks (VAN).

For hyperscale organizations operating on a global scale, there simply is no way to separate SDN from the cloud. Google, for one, realized early on that peer-to-peer networking is simply not functional at massive scale, and is leveraging both SDN and its own Andromeda network functions virtualization (NFV) platform to deliver the low-latency, bare-metal performance that users are looking for. The overriding goal is to provide low-cost, rapid scalability while still delivering service on par with local private networks, all the while maintaining a centralized, logical control mechanism that can provide advanced security.

Others looking to integrate local and distributed operations will need to develop skillsets in both SDN and NFV, says Global Knowledge’s John Hale. With both techniques at your command, you get not only control and data plane separation and a virtual network overlay, but the ability to perform key functions like automated provisioning and centralized command and control that turn a simple virtual network into an intelligent, dynamic and highly flexible data architecture.

Of course, there is no rule that says you have to deploy SDN, NFV and the cloud, but the real question is, why would you do anything else? It would be like buying a Ferrari, filling it with low-grade fuel, and running it on bald tires.

If the name of the game is to get maximum return on investment in both the cloud and advanced networking, they must be viewed as parts of the same digital entity. In that way, you get to shore up the weaknesses of one with the strengths of the other.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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