Software Defined Networking

Software-Defined Networking: Not If, But When!

Software Defined NetworkingWith the demands on IT outpacing the resources available for IT, the future is all about doing more with less, and nowhere is that more apparent than in today’s networks. According to a new study from Dimension Data, the 2012 Network Barometer Report, 45% of  networks will be totally obsolete within five years, and of the devices now in obsolescence, the percentage at end-of-sale increased dramatically from 4.2 % last year to 70% this year. Two-thirds of all devices assessed had at least one known security vulnerability, and only 18% of all access switches would be able to support desktop virtualization and pervasive video.

Given that 90% of medium and large businesses are considering or implementing at least one form of client virtualization, and 1.2 million video minutes will traverse the Internet each second by 2016, it’s no wonder networks need a major upgrade.

One of the concepts gathering momentum is Software-Defined Networking, or SDN. For the most part, the firmware of network switches and routers, i.e. control plane, are proprietary, but SDN seeks to make the control plane remotely accessible and remotely modifiable via third-party software clients, using open protocols such as OpenFlow.

SDN has the potential to lead to a new wave of networking innovation. It can help virtualize the network so segments can be used for different purposes while streamlining network operations and overcome the imitations and operational challenges posed by today’s legacy networking equipment.

“Software-defined networking is for networks what VMware was for servers,” says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research.

According to IDC, SDN will only generate $200 million next year, but will explode to $2 billion by 2016. Highly virtualized network environments and the need for programmable networks are expected to drive this growth, and products are coming from three categories of vendors: traditional network vendors, such as Cisco; large IT vendors, such as IBM, Dell and HP; and start-ups, such as Big Switch and Arista.

Networking leader Cisco has chosen to come out with its own version of SDN, the Open Network Environment. It believes how SDN will be used depends on who’s using it: educational institutions want control and network segmentation; cloud providers need to support multi-tenancy, automated provisioning and dynamic VM moves at scale; and enterprises need to support initiatives like VDI and private cloud. It also wants to preserve the time-tested network features that work, and add newer functions like programmability, application awareness and operational simplicity.

However, while Cisco at least talks about a hybrid approach to SDN, the other big networking vendors appear to be in a holding pattern. Major vendors like Brocade, HP and Juniper have started to respond, but for most part, they aren’t announcing their visions of how they will use OpenFlow and SDN.

With today’s networks facing extinction in the near future, SDN offers the hope for avoiding a costly and time-consuming refresh. Change must come, it’s just a question of how and when.