SDN: the ‘Nerve Centre’ of the business
For the first time in business IT, the network is king. Previous generations – mainframe, PC, client-server – have been defined by and named for computing hardware. With the cloud generation, virtualisation and mobile have made the hardware just another commodity to be managed, promoting speed, scalability, flexibility and responsiveness. All the things a business needs to be competitive in the online, apps-based economy.
The network itself, though, has been lagging. For many businesses, network infrastructure has been built from large, expensive boxes of hardware, each of them powerful and independent computers in their own right. Designed for the relatively static world of client-server, they are poor at managing the much more mesh-like, bursty and distributed traffic of today’s mobile, hybrid and decentralised IT.
Software defined networking (SDN) has been talked about throughout the year and has been pipped to change the world of IT. It is the key enabler of software defined infrastructure which allows enterprise to create highly agile IT infrastructure. SDN is an innovative way of building and managing networks with most of the intelligence centralised in a piece of SDN controller. It brings a similar degree of agility to networks that abstraction, virtualisation and orchestration have brought to server infrastructure. SDN has the potential to revolutionise legacy data centres by providing a flexible way to control the networking so it can function like the visualised versions of compute and storage today. Most of the SDN controllers offer full and complete integration with leading cloud management platforms. This provides the ability for cloud administrators and providers to bill and chargeback customers based on usage and utilisation of resources. For the customer, this means greater control and reduced cycle time for provisioning of infrastructure and bringing in ‘Pay as you Grow’ business models
However, SDN is not only about technology transformation, it requires tighter integration and greater collaboration amongst server, network, and security teams that will have an impact on how enterprises plan, design, deploy and manage network.
Software defined networking (SDN) has evolved precisely to address this. It separates out the parts of the network that route data from the parts that control and monitor that routing. A common fabric does the heavy lifting, while a separate management fabric creates and runs virtual networks on top. New switches, routers and services are implemented as software without needing underlying hardware changes, while capacity and connectivity can be added as commodities without forcing wholesale changes to the network configuration.
This gives the network all the advantages that virtualised data centres have been enjoying for a decade or more. Centralised management and automation improves efficiency and cuts costs, while removing entire layers of device configuration from daily life. Improved adaptability and speedy deployment vastly improves networking requirements, such as bringing up new services or rapidly adapting to a security threat or incident. Network administration can become fully policy-driven, rather than revolving around configuring and monitoring individual devices.
SDN also brings a new level of intelligence to network management. For example, a major tool for today’s network managers is Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). In old-style networking, DPI could only be used on particular devices: with SDN, DPI can be used to enforce policy compliance and extend visibility across the network as a whole, single entity.
At the same time, the ability to see an SDN fabric as a collection of virtual networks means that individual tasks can be better managed. Virtual workload management means that independent network configurations can be adjusted for bandwidth or quality or service requirements without any physical changes, and problems can be quickly identified and fixed.
Such flexibility leads directly to business benefits. Customised network services can be delivered directly to application users, reducing the network management team size and operational overhead. Reduced physical configuration requirements and much more flexible service deployment increases uptime, while the much better visibility across the network in use helps for accurate reporting and planning not just for network resources but also in computing and storage. Infrastructure use is increased and capex goes down – exactly as storage and compute infrastructures have enjoyed through their own virtualisation path.
To date, SDN has been implemented in large or particularly network-centric enterprises. However, SDN is developing rapidly and becoming more appropriate for a wider range of organisations all the time. There’s no particular magic in deciding if and when to adopt SDN; an enterprise doing so should look at risk-benefit analysis, security implications, change management, cultural and team skill issues.
You don’t have to go it alone. Use a solution providers’ experience with SDN planning and deployment to find out what’s worked – and what hasn’t – for others in your situation, and when it’s wiser to wait. Every revolution takes time to become the new normal, and networking is no different. While the advantages of SDN are undeniable and its future as the basis for enterprise networking assured, it’s still new and changing. When the time comes, and it will, be ready.
By Anuj Bhalla, Vice President & Global BU Head Product, SIMS (Systems Integration and Maintenance Service), Wipro Ltd.