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The future of SDN: Agility and automation

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working 33When it comes to managing traffic on a network, a software-defined approach allows for increased agility and automation.

In a software-defined networking (SDN) environment, a software controller on a server monitors applications and provide more visibility for a network administrator to direct traffic, noted Dr. Clifford Grossner, an analyst at Infonetics Research.

“When I look for a switch that’s capable of being installed in an external SDN network, I look for one that has these APIs that allow for external programmability by a controller,” Grossner said.

A holistic view

A key function of SDN will be to provide a holistic view of application traffic on a network to avoid congestion.

Using load balancers, “they’ll be able to do this across a network from a single perch point, which is much more powerful than how they do it today,” Grossner said.

One company looking to provide a holistic view of data is Medallia, a provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS) Customer Experience Management (CEM) applications. Medallia was looking for this simplicity and agility when it deployed Dell’s 40 Gigabit Ethernet Open Networking to give companies more visibility into their data as they seek feedback from customers through social media, the web and mobile.

The Dell switches support the Linux network OS from Cumulus Networks. The open source nature of Linux OS will be a key part of the future of SDN and open networking.

“Open networking is an enabler for SDN because you don’t have to wait for the switch manufacturer to program features you want in the switch,” Grossner said. “Vendors and people have teams that will do it themselves.”

Medallia uses in-memory analytics to allow customers to extract insights about data.

“We need a way to read data quickly and read data on multiple machines, and suddenly the network becomes a key component in that,” Karl Armani, head of infrastructure and operations at Medallia, said at Dell World 2014. “We need to get about 40 gigabytes per second per node across the data center to support our application and to maintain that scalability and maintain that innovation in the marketplace.”

For Medallia, having a consistency of tools across compute and networking was key, according to Tom Burns, vice president and general manager, Dell Networking and Enterprise Infrastructure.

Linux to bring more flexibility to SDNs

SDN as well as other forms of networking will increasingly incorporate Linux. By offering an open networking platform with Cumulus Linux, companies won’t be locked into a proprietary solution, Burns said.

“It’s about handing more flexibility, more agility to the customer so they can focus on what’s important to the company rather than managing boxes,” Burns told SiliconAngle.

In the February 2015 Data Center SDN Strategies: North American Enterprise Survey by Infonetics Research, 79 percent of participating companies planned to go live with SDN in their data center by 2017. In addition, 74 percent of respondents cited improved security performance as a driver for adopting SDN; 73 percent chose improved application performance and 73 percent mentioned improved management capacity as a factor.

The three paths of SDN

The future of SDN will have three paths: OpenFlow, virtualization and programmability, Burns said at Dell World 2014.

As far as programmability, “Network operating software has been opened up with REST APIs,” he said.

OpenFlow is an open-standard networking protocol that allows network administrators to manage traffic between Ethernet switches, routers and wireless access points. The Intel Open Network Platform, a reference architecture for delivering software-defined services, includes APIs for OpenFlow and Open vSwitch, two open source initiatives. Intel ONP can run balances on switches and provide a centralized view of a network.

One way to get a central holistic view of a network will be through VMware’s NSX virtualization platform, which Dell integrates on its blade and top-of-rack switches. NSX incorporates the Intel Security Controller, which secures physical and virtual appliances.

Grossner sees strong adoption of SDN in the future.

“We’re very optimistic that it is a transformation that’s here to stay, and we’ll see a significant rollout of it,” he said.


Brian T. Horowitz

Brian T. Horowitz

Brian T. Horowitz has been a technology journalist since 1996 and has contributed to numerous publications, including Computer Shopper, CruxialCIO, eWEEK, Fast Company, NYSE magazine, ScientificAmerican.com and USA Weekend. He holds a B.A. from Hofstra University and is based in New York.

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