Software-Defined Networking Takes Center Stage

By | May 17, 2012

You couldn't go anywhere at this year's Interop in Las Vegas without running into the term "software-defined networking" (SDN). While the concept behind the term isn't completely new, enhanced protocols and advancements in network technology have allowed SDN to finally become a reality, and IT executives and managers are taking notice.

What is SDN?

As with any term that becomes popular in the industry, it's important to get a firm idea on what SDN really is before it gets adopted by every piece of software that interacts with the network. As detailed in this Network Computing article, the Open Networking Foundation considers SDN to be defined by the existence of three key features: the separation of the data and control planes, the existence of a centralized controller with an overarching view, and the ability for external apps to program the network.

The benefits of SDN include the time it takes to deploy applications, which can be reduced by months; the amount of control IT personnel can have over traffic flow; and even to better security controls. This new technology is shaping up to change the fundamentals of the data center, and the protocols are now in place to begin to see actual benefits from these types of solutions.

A Million SDN Strategies

With software-defined networking on the tip of everyone's tongue, it's no surprise that companies are highlighting the SDN aspects of their offerings. At Interop, VMware tried to take SDN a step further by talking about its software-defined data center, which looks to virtualize every aspect of modern data centers. Whether this is really software-defined or just a more advanced form of virtualization, is still up for debate, but the concept of a software-controlled data center is intriguing.

As noted by Network World, HP was also highlighting their SDN successes. The company explained how they were using SDN to significantly hasten application deployment within a cloud solution and gave success stories surrounding their virtualization offerings.

Both companies, along with a host of others, seem to understand the importance of this particular type of network virtualization. And they are poised to move the technology forward. The only remaining question is which type of SDN-based offering will take hold within the industry.

Software-Defined Networking in the Mid-Market

For mid-market IT managers, the effect of the SDN explosion will depend on a particular business' situation, although almost everyone should see some kind of benefit. For companies on the larger end or that have enough data traffic to require their own data center, SDN can provide a level of network control and response previously unheard of. As noted before, SDN will also make rolling out applications much simpler, reducing or eliminating the major stress in recent cloud adoption.

For IT professionals who don't manage most of their own hardware, the movement to SDN still has some advantages. Choosing a partner that utilizes SDN can give the business the ability to program aspects of the virtualized network and respond to traffic issues on their own, instead of waiting for someone else to take care of the problem. This type of functionality may not be ready now, but it's only a matter of time.

Because of the term's similarities to virtualized networking, SDN may not stick around as a buzzword for too long, but the concept behind the buzzword has put its claws into IT professionals around the world, who now see a better way to build and manage the solutions that power technology.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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