The software-defined networking (SDN) market is expanding rapidly. Burgeoning demand for cloud-based services, virtualisation and a move towards a mobile and BYOD world are pushing SDN into the spotlight.  

The benefits of SDN are many. Flexibility in maintaining, managing and controlling complex networks, boosting the efficiency of data traffic management… SDN is a game-changing technology that allows service providers to develop highly programmable networks, which result in reduced operational costs, and improved customer service lifecycle. It also helps to overcome the limitations associated with traditional network infrastructure.

SDN is also being seen by some as a catalyst to enable the transformation of today’s data centres from legacy hardware ones, to software-defined infrastructure, as SDN implementations transform networks from over-provisioned, static and inflexible, to nimble, efficient and programmable.

Unlock the value of digital transformation

SDN is seen as the key that organisations need to unlock the value of digital transformation, harness the benefits of predictive analytics, and bring deeper and richer experiences. It’s also being viewed as a key enabler of cloud-native apps in the hybrid cloud, while others say the change that SDN is bringing to virtual machine computing is also being seen at the WAN, as SDN evolves beyond cloud computing, and WAN architectures are starting to change.

Then there is edge computing and IoT. As IoT implementations are moving from public cloud to hybrid environments, they’re converging with applications across the board, and SDN is being viewed as a way to boost network security, billing, centralised management, multi-tenancy, and more.

Steps in the SDN journey

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a developing architecture that introduces the concept of abstraction of the network control plane – usually responsible for configuration, monitoring and management or signalling traffic – from the data plane (or forwarding layer of the network, responsible for user data). The building blocks for SDN include a digital network platform that relinquishes most of the agility of software, enhancing the flexibility of the network and improving its adaptability to emerging application changes and demands.

For businesses of any size, SDN can provide the agility needed to drive the future of their business, delivering dynamic network services to match evolving applications, device, user and security needs.

Knowing where to start requires an understanding of SDN building blocks. The typical features needed from an SDN infrastructure include software programmability and programming tools; management of the infrastructure no matter the location; support of open standards and vendor neutrality to ensure the investment stays in-house; cost of the physical controllers, edge gateways/switches and integration elements required to deliver an SDN platform. All these can be overwhelming to a new customer and could affect the experience of transitioning to SDN infrastructure.

Having a reliable technology partner with an in-depth understanding of SDN such as Westcon-Comstor is essential to manage the financial risk for any business investing in SDN.

Finding the right vendor

Partners should take the time to understand SDN, or get advice to get a deeper understanding of the architecture and what it can deliver.

Typical questions should include: Where can we start with existing infrastructure? What is the financial gain from transitioning from a hardware-centric network to SDN over the short, medium and long term? How should you project manage the SDN process? How disruptive can the transition be? And who is responsible for the deliverables to ensure you realise the benefits?

It is important to know if the vendor meets your business needs, the solution will deliver agility, if it is open and programmable, and whether it delivers management capabilities such as a dashboard to track and measure whether service levels are being met.

The benefits of SDN

Today’s networks are hardware centric. Changes to a legacy network requires a tech refresh, the addition of modules to activate a new service and replacement of hardware to scale services. This can lead to loss of innovation, in the case of a total failure of the system.

Today’s networks also do little to deliver insights out of the box and depend on the integration of third-party tools and a specialised skillset to get meaningful data from the network for improved monitoring, management and security purposes. Today’s networks require manually intensive procedures to troubleshoot, resolve issues, update configurations, patch or upgrade software and optimise services which is where most of IT’s time and money is spent.

SDN delivers cheaper gateways at the edge, as most processing is now left to cloud or centrally delivered software controller modules. SDN architecture can effectively deliver high-bandwidth for data, with the flexibility to scale up or down depending on the application need. SDN includes embedded security, making it a more attractive for customers.

Fundamentally, SDN gives business the flexibility to re-programme the network to adapt new application demands through an open, programmable software stack. It provides a rich platform that can help drive the adoption of cloud, IoT and mobility that also supports embedded security capabilities. Businesses can build their own application stack that talks directly to the network through APIs, providing results-based outcomes vastly improved over a current legacy network integration model.

SDN and SMB: the perfect fit?

Some of the most disruptive use cases for SDN can be seen in small and mid-sized businesses. For example, using SD-WAN allows for the implementation of low-cost dynamic private WAN networks over any available WAN connections, independent of service provider controls and network rigidity. In this use case, businesses can replace costly MPLS and dedicated point-to-point links with lower priced internet circuits (direct internet access) and cellular backup connections as complementary to lower the capacity and need for costly MPLS connections.

SDN is attractive to service providers looking to take advantage of the promised benefits such as cost, flexibility and a pay-as-you grow support model. Service providers can leverage SDN in several ways; to deliver data centre connectivity in customer collocated and VAR datacentres to give them the ability to activate customer services with speed and agility; or in SDN-enabled optical networks where there are high volume Internet traffic demands driven by new service consumption models in markets such as media, communication, transport, travel, business collaboration, and even for fintech applications.

Service providers can also take advantage of SDN to transition the millions of CPE-based links to SD-WAN connections, giving them a ready-to-go, extendable and agile platform to overlay additional value-added services. This allows legacy service providers to evolve into powerful managed IT providers to SMB customers, providing open, intelligent, centralised management and service orchestration.

The bottom line

Social media, mobile devices and cloud computing are pushing traditional networks to their limits. Compute and storage have benefited from innovations in virtualisation and automation, but those benefits are constrained by limitations in the network. Administrators may spin up new compute and storage instances in minutes, only to be held up for weeks by rigid, manual network operations.

SDN has the potential to revolutionise legacy data centres by providing a flexible way to control the network so it can function more like the virtualised versions of compute and storage today.

To learn more about the SDN opportunity, get in touch with your Weston-Comstor team today.