Determining the need for Software Defined Networking


Software defined networking is a relatively new approach to how we manage, build and extend data centre networks that offers considerable technological and financial benefits.

For organisations of any size and in any sector the right network is vital to their ability to tap into technology innovations such as cloud, Big Data, the Internet of Everything, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and seamless mobility.

However the majority of networks are built on legacy technology in the same way networks were built 20 years ago. Inflexible, hard and costly to scale, and a nightmare to manage, these networks are failing under the combined pressures of exponential traffic growth and increased server virtualisation. Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is a powerful new way of addressing these issues that avoids the need for expensive uplifts or hardware investments.

SDN gives IT teams the ability to control network environments at a higher level, making it easier than ever for businesses to take a holistic approach to network infrastructures and manage them as a unified whole rather than a collection of siloes.

As Vice President and General Manager, Software Networking at Brocade, Kelly Herrell leads software networking strategy for the company. We spoke to Herrell, who will be speaking on SDN at the SDN Summit in London on June 17, to find out more.

TechRadar Pro: How does SDN work?

Kelly Herrell: Essentially, SDN enables the separation of the part of the network that is responsible for routing and directing traffic (known as the control plane) from the part that carries the traffic itself (known as the data plane). The logical next step in virtualising and automating the data centre, SDN enables the redeployment or adoption of physical or virtualised network resources to be simplified, centralised and automated.

The goal is to allow organisations to respond rapidly to changing business requirements. By simplifying how network resources are deployed and managed, SDN gives businesses far greater control of their data and applications and makes network management simpler and faster.

TRP: What are the benefits?

KH: SDN has the potential to deliver radical cost and time saving benefits for businesses, leading to IDC predicting that SDN will be a $3.7 billion market by 2016.

One of its primary advantages is the potential for automation. By using programmatic controls to automate functions within a network, SDN can significantly increase speed and efficiency while reducing the risk of human error. The business can focus on innovation, rather than operational tasks.

Reducing the time needed to manage the network and deploy new resources or applications can also greatly increase an organisation's agility and the speed with which new services can be deployed. For instance, if an employee does not have to manually provision the compute, storage and network resources needed to deliver an application, businesses are able to get new services up and running far quicker.

TRP: Is anyone using it yet?

KH: The earliest and most dramatic adoption of software networking approaches has been with companies for whom the network is their business, in particular Cloud and Telecom service providers. Their business challenges have overrun what legacy technologies can enable, driving them to rapid and broad adoption of modern techniques based on software in order to facilitate service agility at dramatically better business economics.

Application Cloud providers such as Amazon, Rackspace, IBM Softlayer and many others are using SDN approaches to provide offerings dubbed "NaaS" (Network As A Service). Provisioned on demand within their large installations of industry-standard servers, these providers are delivering highly capable IP networking solutions at prices befitting their utility business model.

Telecom providers are now aggressively modelling Subscriber Clouds, moving beyond the legacy hardware model that has saddled their businesses with slow responsiveness, uncompetitive time-to-market and extremely high costs. Using the terminology NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), Telecoms around the world are all aggressively engaged in implementing their software networking strategies.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.