A Closer Look at Software Defined Networking

Written by: Josh Blakey | October 11, 2018

It’s hard to escape mention of digital transformation at present, particularly in regard to the growing requirement for business flexibility and agility. Far from being just a catchword, digital transformation is a necessity for many businesses, with many undertaking this just to survive in a competitive landscape.

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As a result, pressure on networks has increased and it’s becoming increasingly important to have the ability to deploy applications and services rapidly and efficiently, to support this demand.

In our recent article looking at Cisco vs. Dell, I touched on the future of networking and the way in which Dell Technologies is arguably taking the lead with software defined networking (SDN).

But what is SDN, and what does it mean to your business?

Software defined networking: an overview

In a similar way to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), SDN understandably means different things to different people. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be providing an overview of the technology enabling disaggregation of hardware and software to increase flexibility, efficiency and security — all cornerstones of effective business-wide transformation.

Currently the primary use-case for SDN is in the data centre, but as we’ve seen with the virtualised server networks of recent years, it’s almost foretold that as the technology develops it will filter down to the campus network. 

An area that looks to have gathered traction is how SDN can be successfully harnessed when utilised with Cloud hosted applications and services. When workloads are created in the Cloud it's vital that lines of communication are designed correctly between the on-premise and cloud hosted equipment, so as not to jeopardise speed or security. SDN solutions can provide an answer to this, enabling the on-premise solutions to be stretched, or moved up to the Cloud, seamlessly. Although as with all things, challenges will present themselves.

The challenges that SDN helps you to address

Speed and Efficiency 

The number of different roles and processes surrounding data centres traditionally makes change particularly slow. With the increasing demands of the digital age, the need for faster provision of applications and services calls for an adjustment in the process. SDN enables speedy deployments, testing and delivery to end users.

While growing pressures on the network would previously have translated into complex systems, SDN opens up opportunities for innovation and flexibility to cope with that demand efficiently.

Cost

It’s hard to escape the reality that manual provisioning and required maintenance takes time, resources and, as a result, cost. Lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) for the network, and future-proofing it against the inevitable twists and turns to come is a clear benefit.

Additionally, with the correct hardware platforms, savings can be made by extending the life of the equipment with software overlays and controllers.

Security

Firewalls, which have been traditionally associated with networks, may well have stood up against the onslaught of past threats but this has changed. With threats coming from inside as well as outside your organisation, securing North-South traffic is no longer enough. The East-West traffic has been subjected to breaches that are becoming a regular occurrence in the papers, and a permanent headache in the boardroom.

Working with the right SDN solution can provide centralised, easy to manage security mechanisms to secure all aspects of your infrastructure and as those high-profile breaches put more pressure on IT professionals, the flexibility to ensure deeper security is imperative.

Dell EMC powering the evolving market of SDN

Dell EMC have been seen as market disruptors with their focus on open networking solutions being a key example. Their work with best-of-breed technologies, as part of the Dell Technologies ecosystem, to deliver solutions tailored to the end user (without locking them into proprietary technologies) has made it a natural step to extend focus to SDN in full.

It’s worth noting that many other vendors are also embracing SDN, but Dell EMC is arguably leading the way with years of commitment to open standards. Working with big data centre names like VMware, Pluribus and Big Switch, along with releasing open networking (ON) hardware and software for nearly all new switching, highlights an ethos centred around their customers’ growing requirements for flexibility, efficiency and security.

Looking towards the future

Whilst cost effective in the data centre market, it would be remiss to overlook the fact that SDN is, at present, an expensive option for campus networking. it will take time for SDN to be adopted into the campus network, but it is coming and the benefits will soon outweigh the costs. The big networking vendors have a significant stake in making the effort and training required to deploy and manage SDN in the campus attractive. (If ignored, there will be a race to the bottom, price wise, with networking hardware being ever more commoditised).  There are strong echoes here of how server virtualisation revolutionised the server and storage world and is now cascading to the network.

The important point to note is that as Dell EMC has been pushing open networking for some time now. Their portfolio is largely future-proofed for the time when SDN is the mainstay for customers.

The astute IT professional will be keeping an eye on the data centre as a cue for things to come and in this case, ensuring their network has the potential to transition to SDN as it becomes viable. After all, once the costs begin to drop, its benefits will make it a crucial step in their ongoing IT transformation journey.

There are lots of solutions on offer out there, we’ve taken a brief look at the fantastic potential of SDN on offer working with Dell EMC, but it’s vital to look at what your own business needs, particularly in line with the themes of transformation, before you make any permanent choices.

IT decisions are increasingly impacting other areas of the business and as pressures increase, the need for a network that aligns with those wider business changes will become essential.

However, as always, picking the most suitable vendor(s) and partners is crucial to the successful delivery of your business’ transformation goals.

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