What, Exactly, Can SDN Do for the Enterprise?

SDN brings many advanced capabilities to the enterprise as a result of creating networking architectures atop abstract software layers rather than in hardware. The intent is to foster the flexibility, scalability and federation needed to address the highly dynamic nature of modern workflows.

But now that the enterprise at large is ready to push SDN into real production environments, it is time to start asking some more pertinent questions. Exactly how is SDN supposed to accomplish these feats? In what ways will the enterprise utilize SDN to address the concerns of today, let alone the needs of tomorrow?

According to Bruce Gregory, CEO of Corsa Technologies, a key capability that SDN brings to the table is the handling of large data transfers – the kind that flow between large research centers and supercomputing facilities. Under current architectures, these tend to bottleneck normal traffic by tying up buffers and queuing processes needed by normal TCP data. SDN provides a logically centralized control plane that tracks application needs, network topologies, current states and other parameters to enable proper bandwidth allocation and dynamic SLA management so that both small and large workflows can proceed simultaneously.

SDN also allows security to become integrated in both the automation and virtualization layers of the network, says Greg Kushto, a director at network security firm Force 3. On the automation front, SDN takes over the configuration process from human operators, removing the misconfiguration mistakes that often lead to vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, by building security into the virtualization layer, the enterprise can extend protection beyond the firewall to wherever data is carried, forcing hackers to not only break the network stack but the virtual layer as well. All of this provides a more holistic security apparatus that tracks with the full data lifecycle, as opposed to today’s add-on security approach.

For companies that specialize in software delivery, the benefits will be even greater. IntegrationQA’s business model is built on optimizing the software provisioning process through agile IT and QoS, a task that becomes eminently easier when customers can access the service seamlessly in the cloud without a lot of network configuration and inspection. As managing director Chris Wellington told Channel Life:

“You can provision from a known baseline with confidence and also have a greater confidence you are building/deploying and verifying in an environment that looks like production.”

And when it comes to Big Data and the Internet of Things, SDN’s ability to support dynamic configuration will allow enterprises to avoid the costly over-provisioning that would otherwise be needed to handle large spikes in traffic, says A10 Networks’ Glen Ogden. In fact, you do this by leveraging the Big Data that is coming from your own networking environment to create a feedback loop that can be used by the automation and policy stacks to dynamically adjust abstract network architectures. This produces a highly responsive environment capable of adjusting itself to the real-time operational and behavioral changes that are starting to hamper today’s static networks.

This is undoubtedly only the beginning. As field experience grows and business models increasingly favor application-driven functions over web- or infrastructure-based ones, a software-defined network will be crucial in delivering data and services where they need to be, when they need to be there. And if architected properly, it will do this at less cost and with less operational complexity – for human operators at least – than a traditional network could ever hope to achieve.

Looking back, people will probably wonder how the enterprise coped without SDN the same way we wonder how humanity once coped without indoor plumbing.

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