Building a mindful network that adapts to meet digital demand

Businesses today are using mobile, cloud and big data to be more agile in this age of digital transformation. This is creating the need for a “mindful network” that uses SDN and NFV to understand end-user demand and adapt and scale resources in real-time.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) enables the network to understand what’s happening on a global network and dynamically adapt traffic flows to meet demand. While Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) enables traffic management tasks to be carried out in a highly automated way. Together SDN and NFV enables a network to be mindful of the end-user experience of digital services.  

Mindfulness meditation is increasingly used by business leaders to help them focus on the present moment in time and identify ways in which they can be more innovative and productive. When the network is aware of the latency, jitter, round-trip delay and privacy requirements of each application workload, current congestion and security threat levels, it can adjust the way in which services are provisioned.

SDN and NFV lend themselves to a hybrid, multi-vendor environment made up of a combination of on-premise, SaaS and hybrid infrastructure. They allow Network as a Service (NaaS) to emerge as a business strategy that will revolutionize how both public and private networks are provisioned, providing more control over performance, cost and security parameters.

SDN/NFV – the networking holy grail

SDN and NFV help IT teams move from being a gatekeeper, controlling what applications business functions can use to an enabler of new business models. According to IDC, SDN delivers the agility, flexibility, and programmability that align closely with its “3rd Platform for IT”, especially for public and private cloud rollouts. The 3rd Platform has cloud as its core and offers solutions for any place, anytime access to application functionality.

“Cloud computing and the 3rd Platform have driven the need for SDN, which will represent a market worth more than $12.5 billion in 2020. Not surprisingly, the value of SDN will accrue increasingly to network-virtualization software and to SDN applications, including virtualized network and security services. Large enterprises are realizing the value of SDN in the data center, but ultimately, they will also recognize its applicability across the WAN to branch offices and to the campus network,” said Rohit Mehra, Vice President, Network Infrastructure at IDC.

SDN is an indicator of a long-term value shift from hardware to software in the networking industry and a new focus on supporting employee productivity and a better customer experience. “For vendors, this will portend a shift to software- and service-based business models, and for enterprise customers, it will mean a move toward a more collaborative approach to IT and a more business-oriented understanding of how the network enables application delivery,” explained Brad Casemore, Director of Research for Datacenter Networking at IDC.

A question of bandwidth

Enterprise demand for high-speed bandwidth continues to grow unabated, driven by the convergence of applications such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP), unified communications (UC), video, data and Internet, onto a single network. These network trends are driving the need for real-time bandwidth scalability, which is a key feature of SDN- and NFV-based network solutions.

Today real-time applications, like VoIP, frequently share an MPLS or Metro Ethernet connection with non-real-time applications – with priority given to the real-time apps on any given circuit. What is new is the ability of virtual applications to request and control virtual network resources as they are required. NaaS rapidly provisions the application's request, assessing the quality of service (QoS) parameters necessary such as latency, packet loss and jitter. Traffic flows are adapted according to overall congestion levels. At the same time, network security can be defined on an application-by-application basis.

NaaS, for example, lends itself to bandwidth-intensive Skype-for-Business team collaboration workflows, multi-site video conferences or periodic remote data center back-up. It eliminates the necessity for “always on” circuits provisioned to support peak hour traffic. As applications can take down connections that are not required, NaaS can actually help reduce the overall cost of network services by enabling pay-as-you-go subscription services.

This ability to provide bandwidth on demand, and pay for just the amount of bandwidth that is consumed reduces costs and also provides valuable network procurement flexibility for enterprises.

In addition to delivering cost savings and simplifying network infrastructure, SDN and NFV also support 5G, which enables even greater network programmability and application responsiveness.

Always on – 24/7

In an increasingly mobile business environment, enterprises expect their IT resources to run 24/7, at peak efficiency with minimal interruption or downtime. A Frost and Sullivan report noted that programmability of the network to provide network resources, as well as managing performance and security – in a matter of minutes – is rapidly becoming a highly-prized asset in this fast forming cloud-centric world.

Frost & Sullivan believes that as enterprises make cloud an integral part of their IT infrastructure, they will put emphasis on the networks that connect the various parts, be it on-premise, cloud, private data centers, public cloud, co-location facilities or managed hosting of their hybrid IT deployment model. This is where SDN and NFV can play a key role.

The changing face of the IT department

As part of digital transformation, enterprise IT departments are becoming more like service providers. They are using virtualization and hybrid cloud to deliver services quickly and on budget to business departments. The on-demand, pay-for-what-is-consumed model linked to the cloud is now influencing how enterprises view network connectivity.

As we move forward digital business is going to require even more connectivity within budget. A more intelligent, mindful network delivers just that.

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Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.