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SDN 101: Everything you need to know

Last year the GSMA revealed that there are now more mobile devices in the world than there are people; we’re officially spending more time online and on different devices and businesses will need to adapt accordingly.

In order to stay relevant and competitive, firms are adopting emerging technologies like the cloud, mobility and big data to keep pace and as a result the IT department is now looking at how best they can support these trends whilst continuing to provide a seamless customer and employee experience.

Realising that they need a more agile and flexible IT network to keep up, we’re seeing a growing interest in implementing a software defined network (SDN) to provide a faster, more agile and scalable infrastructure.

What exactly is SDN and why should I care?

In a nutshell, SDN changes the way in which networks are configured and operated. It allows the IT department to see the network as a single entity, removing the need to have detailed knowledge of its topology or components.

Additionally, SDN provides a programmatic interface to the network so that business and other applications can modify its behaviour automatically, for example adjusting to new business needs and supporting the introduction of new applications.

IDC recently predicted that the global SDN market is set to grow from $960 million (£630m) in 2014 to more than $8 billion (£5.3bn) by 2018; so it’s not just a passing fad. Early adopters of this technology have seen increased network agility, efficiency and differentiation through innovation, causing their competitors to sit up and take notice.

Not only can SDN make the network more efficient, but it can also bring down operational expenses as firms no longer require specific vendor hardware or need to make additional technology investments to make their network run properly.

Who is embracing SDN?

Datacentres and service providers have been amongst the first to adopt SDN solutions. As an enabler of the software defined datacentre that allows businesses to deploy new applications and react to business and customer demand more quickly, the result has been better customer service and faster response times.

More recently we’ve also seen several innovative organizations in the healthcare and education sectors take advantage of the technology. While SDN is maturing at a fast pace, it is still in its infancy as there are still several industries yet to consider it.

However, there is a big push to encourage more firms to recognise the benefits of SDN in the form of the OpenDaylight Project. The OpenDaylight Project is a collaborative open source project which aims to accelerate the adoption of SDN – it has laid the foundation for the heart of SDN deployments today, such as Extreme Networks’ controller platform, and is considered to be the central control component and intelligence that allows customers to achieve network-wide objectives in a much more simplified fashion.

The community, which includes more than a dozen vendors, is addressing the need for an open reference framework programmability and control enabling accelerated innovation for customers of any size and in any vertical.

What does the future hold?

So while we know that SDN will become more commonplace across businesses in the years ahead, how will the technology and its uses change, and who will be next to adopt? As we move through 2015, we expect to see the two biggest trends in the SDN market unfold:

  1. Network driven analytics– Enterprise mobility is about a lot more than the mobile device – mobility and agility across the entire enterprise network requires access to data from any device. To maximize the user experience, IT must make sure that applications can be seamlessly delivered from the cloud – private or public – to those users and devices that require them to perform their jobs. A big data analytics driven solution captures and analyses application traffic to optimize IT operations and security, while providing context for better business decisions and analytics, at unprecedented scale and performance.
  1. SDN hits the campus market – In 2015, we’ll see campuses reaping the benefits of SDN. The often detached locations within a campus will make it more complex to deploy but the benefits will by far outweigh the challenges. We’ll also see SDN start to make its way into other vertical sectors – including in sports and entertainment, retail, healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing.

Considerations for SDN adopters-to-be

For those businesses considering an SDN solution, it will be imperative to firstly become familiar with the technology and its components, create cross-functional IT teams that include applications, security, systems and network to get an understanding what they wish to achieve.

Secondly, firms should investigate best-of-breed vendor solutions that can deliver innovative and reliable SDN solutions which leverage existing investments without the need to overhaul longstanding technologies. This way, businesses can reap the benefits of SDN whilst saving time as well as money and mitigate risk.

The technology and some of the building blocks are still changing but the trend towards truly standards based, multi-vendor led SDN is unstoppable – it will change the industry. Whilst it’s no longer brand new, it has gained momentum because new-generation applications and today’s business require a new level of agility and service-level responsiveness across the entire network infrastructure.

By Markus Nispel, VP of solutions architecture at Extreme Networks