Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Overview of 'Open' Software Defined Networking (SDN) for Business Managers

If you don't understand what Software Defined Networking (SDN) is, don't worry about it. When asked, only 10% of 450 information technology (IT) specialists at a recent Network World event raised their hands and said they understood what it was all about.

Obviously, if you’re in IT you will definitely want to know about the topic of Software Defined Networking (SDN). For business managers in most corporations, not so much. However, this article attempts to provide a high level overview of the topic for managers so they don't get lost when the IT staff inevitably starts talking about SDN and why the organization needs to invest in it.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a relatively new approach for managing and operation large scale telecommunication networks. SDN involves decoupling control of the network from the physical infrastructure. It allows network administrators in your data center to better manage your telecommunication networking resources that often consist of equipment from multiple vendors.


Sometime in the year 2000, the Gartner Group recognized the emergence of programmable networks as the next big thing for the Internet. There was a growing mismatch between market requirements and network capabilities. In response, the industry started creating the Software Defined Networking (SDN) architecture and associated 'open' networking standards.

The growth of mobile devices, server virtualization, cloud services, and the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) are among the trends driving the telecommunication industry to reexamine traditional networking architectures. Many conventional networks are hierarchical, built with tiers of Ethernet switches arranged in a tree structure. This design made sense when client-server computing was dominant, but that architecture is ill-suited to meet the dynamic computing, storage, and communication needs of today's enterprise data centers and telecommunication networks.

'Open' SDN Technology & Solutions

Open source software now plays a permanent role in the world of enterprise IT systems. Gartner forecasts that open source technology will be included in 85% of all commercial software packages by 2015 and 95% of mainstream IT organizations will use a range of open source software components. Currently, one of the fastest growing segments within the world of open source software is Software Defined Networking (SDN). The SDN market is projected to surge from $360M to $3.52B by 2018.

The Open Networking Foundation (OFN) was founded back in 2011 to champion the cause of 'Open Standards' and Software Defined Networking (SDN). In addition to promoting SDN, it also supports the popular OpenFlow specification and communications interface for creating 'open' SDN solutions. Its board members include Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, Verizon and Deutsche Telecom.

SDN Benefits

The tangible benefits of transitioning to software defined networking are many. They range from better management control of an organization's telecommunication networks to significant reductions in operational costs over time. Next generation SDN solutions are not only designed to handle the many new technologies and infrastructure requirements associated with the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT), but they provide a foundation for massive scalability to meet the future needs of organizations well into the 21st century.

Other benefits include more vendor independence, transitioning away from expensive proprietary solutions, as well as increased flexibility and agility needed to innovate and meet future needs that have yet to be determined. In addition increased network performance will also translate into better service to network users - business customers.

According to Amin Vahdat, a Principle Engineer at Google, "The biggest advantage is being able to get better utilization out of our existing lines." Currently, the state-of-the-art in the industry is to run lines at 30% to 40% utilization. With SDN, organizations should be able to run wide area lines at close to 100% utilization.

Conclusion & Recommendations

In traditional data centers, network services have been provided by specific physical devices such as routers, switches, and firewalls. Each of these physical boxes was expensive, complex, physical fixture located in a large data center. All that will change when the network is no longer restricted by the hardware, but lies in the software. The trend is unmistakable. In the future, more and more network infrastructure and services will rely on 'open' standards-based software defined networking (SDN).

If your organization uses large telecommunications networks, better pay attention and plan on funding the your data centers acquisition and transition to the use of software defined networking (SDN) solutions. This applies to organizations in healthcare, education, manufacturing, retail, government and almost every other industry.

Selected Links

OpenDaylight - An open-source platform for network programmability to enable Software Defined Networking (SDN) and create a solid foundation for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).
OpenFlow - Managed by the Open Networking Foundation, it is an open source communications interface between the control and forwarding layers within an SDN architecture.
Open Platform for NFV Project - A carrier-grade, integrated, open source reference platform intended to accelerate the introduction of new NFV and SDN products and services.
Open Networking Foundaion (ONF) - Dedicated to the promotion and adoption of Software Defined Networking (SDN) through open standards development.
OpenStack - Software designed to control large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a data center
Project Floodlight - One of the world’s leading open source software-defined networking (SDN) community.
SDN Central - One of the leading centralized source of news and resources for network functions virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN).

* Also check out PLUMgrid, JedaNetworks, Embrane, Big Switch Networks and Midokura.


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