The Future of SDN: From Demo to Production Environments

At the beginning of 2016, it’s hard not to speculate on the future of SDN. With software defined networking ready to make a firm run at the data center, we’re not talking about more bandwidth or faster connectivity anymore, but a fundamental reshaping of our networking capabilities that will have far-reaching implications up and down the stack.

Preparing for the future of SDN

For 2016, the focus will be limited to SDN deployment and establishing basic functionality for scalable production environments, largely in support of legacy applications. Once that is done, the race to create the most innovative, and potentially disruptive, network architectures will be on.

According to Allied Telesis’ Ray Shaw, much of the action will not be in the SDN platforms themselves, but in the applications that will emerge to leverage all of these new-found capabilities. This will require C-level executives and technology managers to work together in novel new ways to create strategies for incorporating SDN into everyday working environments. This will coincide with increasingly diverse demands from Big Data, IoT and other emerging fields, each of which will require unique sets of services from the virtual architecture and underlying infrastructure. At the same time, however, the pressure will be on to simplify processes and heighten resource utilization and efficiency.

There is likely to be a broad difference between the pace of deployment on the cloud and in the enterprise, says Pica8’s James Liao. Service providers already have the skills and organizational foundation to create innovative solutions, while the enterprise is still struggling with system complexity and self-service issues.  Those who embrace the technology quickly will be rewarded with high degrees of customization both within the data center and on the campus LAN. Already, we are seeing advanced applications in the channel like DR as a Service, advanced server configuration, and VPN provisioning to help make building and running SDNs a basic enterprise function.

Containers and the future of SDN

Meanwhile, container technology will do wonders to create the microarchitectures that will benefit mightily from SDN, and this presents both an opportunity and a problem, says Lancope’s TK Keanini. With platforms like Docker embracing VXLAN tagging technologies as part of the basic overlay, applications will increasingly define their own network topologies. But unless the enterprise establishes a central authority for monitoring and authenticating tags, they are open to copying or other abuses by outsiders, which would enable privileged access to the network and its data. Before heading too deeply into SDN-based container architectures, the enterprise should conduct a thorough round of threat modeling to determine the correct security posture for a full production environment.

Still, SDN is clearly the future of networking, says Brocade. The technology is already transforming data environments at the top end of the enterprise market and it will undoubtedly work its way to mid-sized and smaller organizations in the coming year. The increase in x86-based network architectures will only accelerate the trend, replacing specialized hardware like the ADC with virtual versions that are better able to adapt to changing workload conditions. And networks defined in software will prove more flexible and more amenable to user requirements than static hardware constructs could ever hope to be.

For 2016, then, the future of SDN is mostly clear. The challenge will be in utilizing this brave new world of software definition once we get there.

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