The bigger promise of software defined networking (SDN) is that it will centralize and simplify control of enterprise network management. But what are the specific advantages of software defined networking? Different vendors are making different claims, but the most commonly cited advantages of software defined networking are traffic programmability, greater agility, the ability to create policy driven network supervision, and implementing network automation. The promise of SDN is the ability to allow networks to keep pace with the speed of change.
One of the primary advantages of software defined networking is that it creates a framework to support more data-intensive applications like big data and virtualization. Big data is anticipated to grow at a compound annual rate of 27 percent according to IDC, which means it will become a $32.4 billion market by 2017. IDC also predicts that by the end of this year, 70 percent of all server workloads installed will be on virtual machines. Virtualization adoption is being driven by big data and SDN provides the means to manage virtual machines and big data network traffic.
Here’s a list of some of the specific advantages of software defined networking:
1. Centralized network provisioning.
Software defined networks provide a centralized view of the entire network, making it easier to centralize enterprise management and provisioning. For example, more VLANs are becoming part of physical LANs, creating a Gordian knot of links and dependencies. By abstracting the control and data planes, SDN can accelerate service delivery and provide more agility in provisioning both virtual and physical network devices from a central location.
2. Holistic enterprise management.
Enterprise networks have to set up new applications and virtual machines on demand to accommodate new processing requests such as those for big data. SDN allows IT managers to experiment with network configuration without impacting the network. SDN also supports management of both physical and virtual switches and network devices from a central controller; something you can’t do with SNMP. SDN provides a single set of APIs to create a single management console for physical and virtual devices.
3. More granular security.
One of the advantages of security defined networking that appeals most to IT managers is centralized security. Virtualization has made network management more challenging. With virtual machines coming and going as part of physical systems, it’s more difficult to consistently apply firewall and content filtering polices. When you add in complexities such as securing BYOD devices, the security problem is compounded.
The SDN Controller provides a central point of control to distribute security and policy information consistently throughout the enterprise. Centralizing security control into one entity, like the SDN Controller, has the disadvantage of creating a central point of attack, but SDN can effectively be used to manage security throughout the enterprise if it is implemented securely and properly.
4. Lower operating costs.
Administrative efficiency, improvements in server utilization, better control of virtualization, and other benefits should result in operational savings. Although it is still early to show real proof of savings, SDN should lower overall operating costs and result in administrative savings since many of the routine network administration issues can be centralized and automated.
5. Hardware savings and reduced capital expenditures.
Adopting SDN also gives new life to existing network devices. SDN makes it easier to optimize commoditized hardware. Existing hardware can be repurposed using instructions from the SDN controller and less expensive hardware can be deployed to greater effect since new devices essentially become “white box” switches with all the intelligence centered at the SDN controller.
6. Cloud abstraction.
Cloud computing is here to stay and it is evolving into a unified infrastructure. By abstracting cloud resources using software defined networking, it’s easier to unify cloud resources. The networking components that make up massive data center platforms can all be managed from the SDN controller.
7. Guaranteed content delivery.
The ability to shape and control data traffic is one of the primary advantages of software defined networking. Being able to direct and automate data traffic makes it easier to implement quality of services (QoS) for voice over IP and multimedia transmissions. Streaming high quality video is easier because SDN improves network responsiveness to ensure a flawless user experience.
The specific advantages of software defined networking will vary from network to network, but there are benefits from network abstraction and the agility it offers for network administration and automation. The best way to get the most out of SDN is to assess the network components and infrastructure to determine if SDN can help address issues such as resource availability, virtualization, and network security. Software defined networking isn’t the right approach for every network environment, but when there are clear benefits, SDN could be just the solution you need to optimize your data center.
Where do you see the biggest benefit in deploying software defined networking?