There has been a lot of hype around software-defined networking (SDN), but service providers and enterprises are beginning to adopt the technology which changes the way data centers and enterprise networks are built.
According to market research company Infonetics, the in-use SDN market will reach $13 billion in 2019, up from $781 million in 2014, driven by enterprises and smaller cloud service providers (CSPs). These are basically bare-metal Ethernet switches.
This demand for SDN, which abstracts the high-end functions of networking such as switches and routers, is being driven by the businesses’ need for a more flexible approach to networking, stimulated by the trend for cloud, mobile, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) which all put pressure on the network backbone to perform efficiently at maximum capacity, where the amount of data is only going to grow.
Complementary talents of NFV
Network features virtualisation (NFV) is sometimes considered a competitor technology when in fact it is entirely complementary. They each offer a new way to design, implement and manage a network and its services. Whilst SDN deals with the network’s ‘brain’, providing an overall view of the distributed network to make it more efficient and automate network services, NFV focuses on optimizing the network’s ‘lifeblood’ – the network services themselves.
Both SDN and NFV take a software-based approach to networking, designed to create more scalable, agile and innovative networks, better able to work with today’s 24/7 always connected businesses. Although they are not dependent on one another, they make a wonderful couple. SDN makes NFV a more attractive a proposition and vice versa. SDN brings with it network automaton that allows for policy-based decisions to be made routing the network traffic, whilst NFV makes sure that the network capabilities co-ordinate with the virtualized environments they are supporting.
Business case for SDN
It is folly to put the technology before the business case. SDN is no different. SDN brings two key benefits to the party for enterprises – speed and agility, both crucial in a business environment where technology and the global economy is changing fast.
The ability to create a more streamlined network infrastructure coupled with more rapid application provision processing and enhanced and holistic management of critical networks, such as security, speaks for itself. With the weight load from big data, mobile traffic and data sharing services, enterprises are finding that they can’t handle the workload. SDN provides an answer.
SDN can help with the increasing headache of network security. The 2015 Information Security Breaches Survey found that Government a staggering 90% of large UK companies reported having a security breach last year. Virus attacks were the most common, but over half had been hit by phishing attempts. SDNs can provide granular security for apps and BYOD devices that conventional networks cannot.
The exact cost savings offered by SDNs still has to be ironed out. Obviously there will be cost reductions on networking hardware, management and operations. Put these into the equation, coupled with vastly improved networking efficiency and it should be a win-win situation, even for smaller companies.
But the benefits of SDN aren’t simply honed in networking. SDN by the nature of its virtual data infrastructure provides unprecedented levels of dexterity across the entire business model, which means businesses can move faster against the competition, speed up response times and ultimately dramatically improve data operations across the board.
The way forward
Up until now enterprises have lagged behind service providers in adopting SDN. Primarily because SDN and NFV enable service providers to develop and roll out innovative revenue generating services, many by way of cloud computing services, they can sell to enterprises to offload their data. Whereas business has traditionally seen the network as a necessary overhead to run its business. As a result, enterprises have taken a very cautious approach to SDN. But as they get more experience of the technology there will be a sea change, enabling them to let go of the apron strings that have tied them to proprietary hardware, single network suppliers and dedicated appliances.
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I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.