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Nimble business demands nimble networks

Joy Ghosh | July 16, 2012
Software-defined networks transform hard-wired corporate networks into a programmable communications infrastructure, adaptable to fast-evolving business needs.

There is a lot more work to be done to fully exploit the benefits of SDN. The existence of a separate control plane now makes it possible to program the network from a central console, but initially this is still a relatively piecemeal process, like writing a computer program in machine language. But it does lay the foundation for a new network software discipline, working towards a high-level language that will make networks as readily programmable as a PC - allowing fundamental changes to be selectively broadcast right across the network as easily as clicking a word processor icon.

SDN, the broader picture

OpenFlow has hit the headlines, but don't forget that the basic idea of SDN has been around much longer.

Major switch manufacturers have adopted SDN, but the point is that these pioneers have each developed their own proprietary approach - a good solution so long as you stick to a single supplier.

The key fact about OpenFlow is that it is a vendor-agnostic industry standard that can be added to OpenFlow-enabled Ethernet switches, routers and wireless access points from any supplier. The more vendors start supporting OpenFlow, the bigger choice of equipment there will be for your software-defined network.

Although OpenFlow is just one way out of many to implement SDN, its importance is that it is the first to offer a standardised interface between the switches and the SDN controllers. Again and again in industry we see the importance of this - once standards have been established the implementation can really take off.

OpenFlow has the potential to become the "Android of networking" - an open standard that will encourage an open marketplace of new SDN applications to meet every networking need and business pressure.

Is the proliferation of BYOD ('bring your own device') in your enterprise giving the CIO headaches? Then there will be a choice of off-the-shelf mobility management apps for your OpenFlow controller to help handle the pressure and deliver optimal service to your users. There will be network controller apps to help with identity management, security, policy-based routing, differentiated QoS or whatever you need.

Today's drivers for SDN in the enterprise

It is hardly necessary to spell out for the enterprise IT readership the many business, economic and social pressures now impacting their already demanding roles. Enough has already been written about the complexity, management and security problems caused by the transition from yesterday's closed, plug in network to today's permeable wireless-enabled networks linking a shifting population of mobile users with many of their own personal devices on the network. There are the pressures of increasing virtualisation, of reliance on video and other bandwidth-hungry applications, the problem of IPv6 readiness, of new threats to data security and government legislation over privacy laws and border control of data.


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