Defining SDN: What Is It and Why Should We Care?

By NFVZone Special Guest
Markus Nispel, VP of Solutions Architecture, Extreme Networks
April 17, 2015

We are truly becoming a hyper-connected world with more mobile devices in the world than people, according to a recent study from GSMA. With a slew of different digital channels and devices available, people want to be engaged and have access online anywhere, at any time.

With more mobile traffic comes more data. With more existing data there’s also an increase in backups to the cloud, which is becoming a drain on network resources. Businesses are taking note of customer’s shifting needs due to today’s evolving digital landscape and are looking for emerging network technologies to support these trends. Firms are rapidly integrating cloud, mobility and big data technologies to accelerate their businesses, placing new pressures on IT to provide the infrastructure and IT support to do so. The network has to be fast, efficient and flexible. That’s where software-defined networking (SDN) comes into play. Today, there’s a growing interest and implementation of SDN to provide a faster, more agile and scalable infrastructure.

What exactly is SDN and why should I care?

In a nutshell, SDN changes the way in which networks are configured and operated. It allows the IT department to see the network via a central SDN controller communicating with switches connected down the line, all managed as a single entity with the benefit of removing the need to have detailed knowledge of its topology or different components. Specifically, SDN provides a programmatic interface to the network so that business and other applications can modify its behavior automatically, for example adjusting to new business needs and supporting the introduction of new applications.

While SDN can be characterized by taking deliberate steps to arriving at widespread adoption and applications in the enterprise, its momentum in the market and interest from IT is crystal clear. IDC recently predicted that the global SDN market will grow from  $960 million in 2014 to more than $8 billion by 2018.

SDN drives more efficient networks by reducing unnecessary overhead and it reduces operational costs as firms no longer require specific vendor hardware or need to make additional technology investments to make their network run properly.

Who is evaluating SDN?

A full range of organizations, from enterprises – including schools, local government and manufacturers – to data center providers and telecom service providers are all early adopters of SDN solutions. As an enabler of the software defined data centers that allow businesses to deploy new applications and react to business and customer demand more quickly, the result has been better customer service and faster response times.

Most recently, several innovative organizations in the healthcare and education sectors are exploring ways to take advantage of the technology, for functions such as policy based traffic shaping. Another way healthcare is taking advantage of software-defined networking is for security of patient records and information.  

Further driving the benefits of SDN is the widely recognized OpenDaylight Project, launched in 2013. The OpenDaylight Project is a collaborative open source project which aims to accelerate the adoption of SDN – it has laid the foundation for the heart of SDN deployments today, such as Extreme Networks’ OneController platform, and is considered to be the central control component and intelligence that allows customers to achieve network-wide objectives in a much more simplified fashion.

The community, which includes more than a dozen vendors, is addressing the need for an open reference framework programmability and control enabling accelerated innovation for customers of any size and in any vertical.

Where do we go from here?

While we know that SDN will become more commonplace across businesses in the years ahead, how will the technology and its uses change? Who will be next to adopt? As we move through 2015, I expect to see these trends come to the forefront:

  1. Network driven analytics – Enterprise mobility is about a lot more than the mobile device – mobility and agility across the entire enterprise network requires access to data from any device. To maximize the user experience, IT must make sure that applications can be seamlessly delivered from the cloud – private or public – to those users and devices that require them to perform their jobs. A big data analytics driven solution captures and analyzes application traffic to optimize IT operations and security, while providing context for better business decisions and analytics, at unprecedented scale and performance.
  1. SDN hits the campus market – In 2015, we’ll see campuses reaping the benefits of SDN. The often detached locations within a campus will make it more complex to deploy but the benefits will by far outweigh the challenges. We’ll also see SDN start to make its way into other vertical sectors – including in sports and entertainment, retail, healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing.

What should you consider?

For those businesses considering an SDN solution, it will be imperative to become familiar with the technology and its components, create cross-functional IT teams that include applications, security, systems and network to get an understanding what they wish to achieve.

Secondly, firms should investigate best-of-breed vendor solutions that can deliver innovative and reliable SDN solutions which leverage existing investments without the need to overhaul longstanding technologies. This way, businesses can reap the benefits of SDN while saving time as well as money and mitigate risk.

The technology and some of the building blocks are still changing but the trend towards truly standards based, multi-vendor led SDN is unstoppable – it will change the industry. While it’s no longer brand new, it has gained momentum because new-generation applications and today’s business require a new level of agility and service-level responsiveness across the entire network infrastructure.

Markus Nispel is the Vice President of Solutions Architecture at Extreme Networks. Working closely together with key customers, his focus is the strategic solution development across all technologies provided by Extreme. In his previous role, he was responsible as the Chief Technology Strategist and VP of Solutions Architecture for the Enterasys Networks solutions portfolio and strategy, namely NAC Network Access Control, SDN Software Defined Networks, DCM Data Center Management, MDM Mobile Device Management Integration, OneFabric, OneFabric Connect and OneFabric Data Center as well as the network management strategy. This position is tied to his previous role in Enterasys as Director of Technology Marketing and as a member of the Office of the CTO. In addition to this role, he advises key accounts on a worldwide basis in strategic network decisions. Before its activity for Enterasys, Markus Nispel was active as System Engineer at Cabletron Systems. Markus Nispel studied at the University of Applied Sciences in Dieburg and graduated in 1996 as Dipl. – Engineer for communications technology. He collected first professional experience at E-Plus Mobile Communications within the group of network optimization of their DCS cellular mobile network.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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