SDN and Automation: Their Time is Coming

The chief advantage of software-defined networking (SDN) is its ability to create and recreate new network pathways and architectures according to application and data needs. This plasticity represents a dramatic improvement over current networking technology. SDN makes infrastructure more responsive to the user, rather than the other way around. Just deploying an SDN platform won’t make this functionality magically materialize, though.

To get to that point, SDN requires a fairly sophisticated network automation stack. Only then can it realize its promise of fully automated application and service management environments. But automation is something that top SDN boosters have only just begun to discuss in earnest.

This is in part due to the continuing confusion that SDN generates among enterprise customers. SDN is a hot topic, but not one that’s widely understood. About ninety percent of respondents to Tail-f Systems’ 2013 Software Defined Networking Survey indicated that they’re talking about SDN, placing it higher than virtualization, the cloud, or mobility as an enterprise priority for the coming decade, but only half of those survey respondents could accurately define SDN, according to a recent report. Lately, however, there are signs of movement in SDN automation.

Alcatel-Lucent recently unveiled Nuage Networks, a company-backed startup aimed at SDN and cloud technologies. Nuage Networks has already released its first product, the Virtualized Services Platform, designed to take much of the manual labor out of provisioning and managing virtual networks. The package is built around A-L’s Service Router Operating System (SROS) and offers compatibility with standards like OpenStack and CloudStack, as well as with VMware environments. Nuage intends the Virtualized Services Platform to enable full datacenter automation for both single- and multi-tenant operations, with scalability to support thousands of users across public, private, and hybrid infrastructures.

Meanwhile, Juniper is adding new network programmability to its core switch portfolio. The EX9200 Programmable Switch features the Juniper One Programmable ASIC, which enables advanced automation and the addition of other tools without incorporating additional hardware. The switch also provides native support for the JunosV wireless LAN controller and the Junos Space Network Director, which unifies wired and wireless infrastructure management.

Big Switch Networks brings a healthy dose of automation to OpenFlow environments with the Switch Light platform. Billed primarily as a way to avoid proprietary entanglements in SDN infrastructure, the package also provides a central management module to assume tasks like provisioning, change management and service delivery. In addition, Switch Light allows integrated physical/virtual switch control and centralized application management for more robust, dynamic network configuration.

Despite these advances, SDN remains in a rudimentary stage, so it will likely be a while before we see the fully automated, highly optimized network environment promised in some early reports. Technology this sophisticated requires a lengthy development process in order to fulfill its promises.

The good news is that, so far at least, nothing stands in the way of a fully automated, highly dynamic, and broadly scalable virtual network. SDN just needs a little time and a lot of work to get there.

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