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Migrating to SDN - Planning for a smooth transition

CK Lam | Sept. 1, 2014
Organizations should have a clear idea of the benefits they hope to realize by implementing SDN.

But no matter how much preparation is conducted beforehand, not all circumstances can be foreseen. For this reason, it is essential to have a mitigation plan that enables administrators to revert back to the previous network configuration.

Great leap or baby steps?

For many organizations, a network overlay is the first step in virtualization. Overlays allow for data to travel along the physical network without the need to reconfigure switches along the way. While this serves as a great initial foray, organizations looking to shift toward OpenFlow-based SDN will need to adopt a more holistic view.

First, administrators need to provision network management and traffic monitoring tools to function on the migrated network. This allows organizations to keep an eye on several critical elements during migration, such as OpenFlow compatibility across the network.

Another important point to keep in mind is network segmentation. Many network administrators are rightly apprehensive at the prospect of network virtualization in that it introduces a new threat to IT infrastructure in the form of the hypervisor. Like any software, the hypervisor represents a potential security risk that could compromise every virtual machine running under a given hardware system. To mitigate this risk, administrators should segment their network between applications. This can be accomplished either through software or additional hardware, though the latter approach might be more costly. 

When virtualizing servers, it's also critical to consider the associated networking functions and to virtualize them where appropriate. This is where NFV begins to complement SDN.

Migration can vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of the network and the experience of the IT team. In some cases, new skill sets and additional training may be required. Still, transitioning to an architecture that embraces software is not as difficult as many would assume. With proper planning, most organizations can quickly and easily leverage the benefits of an SDN solution.

CK Lam is director of Data Center Fabric and Virtualization for Asia Pacific at Brocade


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