SDN and the New Data Paradigm

There is no question that SDN is the enterprise’s ticket to the future. By lifting the entire data stack onto the virtual plane, it affords the flexibility to support practically any architecture and the cost advantages to scale out to massive proportions.

This is a crucial step for data infrastructure, because both the size and the nature of the worldwide data load are on the verge of truly momentous change. The size is increasing rapidly and the nature is becoming more complex as the user community learns to leverage data assets in highly creative ways.

The advent of mobile data alone is enough to warrant a fully virtualized data stack. At the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, SDN and its carrier counterpart, Networks Functions Virtualization (NFV), were front and center as app developers, networking experts and others sought to understand how the new virtual wired world will impact the wireless side. Companies ranging from VMware to Sonus Networks were on hand to tout SDN’s role in supporting cloud-based collaborative workflows and advanced IP constructs. At the end of the day, if legacy data architectures cannot adequately serve the new mobile workforce, both will suffer.

But within a few years, human-generated data will be the least of our networking problems. As Juniper Networks notes in the release of its 2015 roadmap, the Internet of Things will consist of about 50 million connected devices by 2020. The company is focusing on the new backend of that network infrastructure with devices like the QFX10000 switch, plus support of VMware, OpenStack and other proprietary and open source platforms. With SDN and a highly developed automation stack in place, enterprises and cloud providers will have the means to tailor resources, security/governance policies and multiple network architectures to enable underlying infrastructure to adapt to whatever the IoT throws at it.

At the same time, Cisco is attempting to bring SDN into the enterprise without disrupting traditional operations. A key component of that strategy is the Nexus 9000 switch, which expands current switching operations even as it lays the groundwork for the company’s Application Centric Infrastructure, says tech blogger Teren Bryson. It is worth noting that of the 1,700 Nexus 9K deployments in January, only 300 were shipped with ACI adapters. That’s a low number, to be sure, but it means that Cisco has been able to drive an advanced networking product by virtue of its bare-metal switching capabilities while seeding its customer base with a basic SDN platform. And since most current ACI deployments are in dev/ops, it is only a matter of time before the fruits of that activity hit the production side.

Meanwhile, service providers like Equinix are showing how SDN can make the cloud even more versatile. The company recently launched the Programmable Networking platform that lies at the heart of its Cloud Exchange service. The idea is to provide SDN as a service that allows a single enterprise to connect to multiple clouds in seconds, rather than weeks, and then coordinate apps and services between clouds under a common framework. The company says it already has more than 100 participants in the Cloud Exchange, half enterprise clients and the other half cloud providers like IBM, Google and Microsoft.  The service even coordinates between various networking platforms like Cisco, Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent using the Tail-f Network Control System.

It would not be entirely accurate to say that networking is the lynchpin that holds the emerging data universe together – every piece of the stack is important in its own way. But networking will be a prime factor in the success of dynamic data initiatives, because performance will rest by and large on the speed and agility that bits can traverse the myriad resources coming online.

SDN allows networking infrastructure to match this dynamism step for step, and we’ve only begun to see how this will affect data functionality in the cloud and beyond.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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