Virtualization is driving the need for software-defined networking (SDN) in the data center. New demands on IT staff to support cloud computing services, mobile applications, BYOD, and big data applications are placing new demands on the data center to deliver more flexibility, better performance, and greater security. Rather than continually adapting the physical data infrastructure to accommodate these changing demands, the infrastructure must be delivered as a service powered by software, hence the software-defined data center (SDDC). And to enable a scalable network infrastructure that can handle rapidly changing resource demands, the SDDC must be extended to a software-controlled, switched network fabric: the SDN.
SDN is maturing rapidly as a viable networking strategy and as a robust market for VARs. According to the Dell’Oro Group, the SDN market grew 65 percent in 2014 over 2013 to about $3 billion in sales. Much of that growth is tied to the increase in sales of network security appliances and Ethernet switches. SDN is clearly taking off for enterprise applications as well as cloud applications. Infonetics Research is predicting 192 percent growth year over year for SDN, including sales of branded Ethernet and virtual switches.
With the advent of mobile, BYOD, and cloud computing, the network fabric must be able to add and remove new enterprise resources on demand. For compute-intensive applications such as big data, delivering any-to-any connectivity to data processing and storage with high performance and low latency is crucial. Using software to abstract the physical network to create a programmable network fabric—i.e., creating an SDN—has become an essential part of high-performance networking. At the same time, using software to abstract the physical network allows you to centralize management and control of enterprise components in the data center.
Greater Enterprise Control Through Software
Once you have centralized software control of network devices and traffic in an SDDC, you open new high-performance networking possibilities. Using an SDN strategy to centralize management in the data center simplifies network management in a variety of ways:
1. Automated network provisioning – Creating a programmable network allows you to automate access to network resources. The SDN can be programmed to handle provisioning for remote sites and connections automatically, including implementing network policies and security protocols.
2. Traffic shaping – Using APIs to expose the switching and controller fabric, you can monitor and shape network traffic, including assigning quality of service (QoS) to prioritize specific wide-area network traffic. Automating management of circuit utilization as well as bandwidth and hop count is also possible, thus sending non-critical data traffic such as backups over underutilized secondary circuits. The result is faster, more predictable throughput.
3. Real-time monitoring – Routing SDN traffic through the data center also enables centralized performance monitoring. To address latency issues from remote data centers or cloud resources, monitoring performance can help improve reliability, improve performance, and provide automated failover as needed.
4. Mitigating security threats – Using virus detection and real-time monitoring, the SDN can isolate network nodes that may be introducing malware to the enterprise. The SDN also can program the network to reroute traffic around an infected node or connection point to maintain throughput.
Use Cases for SDN in the Data Center
By adding software controls and automation to manage virtually any LAN or WAN asset, you gain the ability to change the network infrastructure on demand to meet any requirement. Here are a few use cases that would not be practical without SDN in the data center:
Simplifying VM communications – Large data centers, such as the hyperscale data centers used by Amazon and Google, would be extremely difficult to manage without a software-defined strategy. Using SDN, virtual machines (VMs) are allowed to communicate with one another without concern for the underlying fabric. This simplifies VM deployment while reducing operating expenses.
Connecting enterprise data centers – You can extrapolate the VM communications model across multiple data centers. The SDN dynamically manages data flow for high bandwidth and low latency. The result is more resilient network services running over the abstracted network fabric and faster access while controlling costs.
Integrating legacy networks – For legacy networks or a multi-tenant data center, SDN simplifies management of legacy systems while improving performance. Data traffic can be steered to installed load balancers and firewalls to improve network performance without incurring staff costs to change hardware configurations manually.
Wireless networking – SDN can be used to incorporate wireless data sources into the enterprise. The SDN can encompass the wireless as well as wired connections, especially because the new generation of wireless LAN controllers offer better security and access. The SDN controller can be used to apply uniform security and access controls across wired and wireless connections.
These are just a few of the common use cases for SDN in the data center. SDN can be invaluable for any situation in which separating network resources from the physical infrastructure results in simplified management and improved performance. SDN is the logical strategy for any networking application that requires instant, high-speed access to remote or cloud-based resources on demand.