It’s no secret that software-defined networks (SDNs) will change the face of networking. What is often missed, though, is how SDNs will create a unique opportunity for the channel to expand its business and improve customer retention.
With the phenomenal success of compute and storage virtualization,
application deployments are often limited by network complexity before being limited by server or storage availability. This is particularly the case when applications have unique traffic requirements, such as big data’s use of massive bandwidth, or video’s sensitivity to latency. The network, though, can even delay routine tasks, such as moving virtual machines (VMs) between hosts.
SDNs along with network virtualization address those problems by creating a fully software-configurable network. Network virtualization technologies, such as VXLAN from VMware and the recently acquired Nicira, separate virtual machines from the dependencies on the underlying network so that VMs can be easily moved between virtual switches, even when those switches reside in separate hosts.
SDNs, and particularly those compliant with the OpenFlow specification, go one step further and separate the hosts running those VMs from the operational and economic dependencies of the physical network. OpenFlow opens the network by moving the route calculation and packet forwarding decisions done in routers and switches into open software, called the “Controller,” leaving the routers and switches to focus on packet processing. As such, third-party developers can create what were previously proprietary network services, commoditizing switching and routing hardware, and reducing prices. OpenFlow also changes the way switches and routers process groups of packets or flows, so IT organizations can run separate logical networks over a common physical network without the limitations of today’s VLANs.
For the channel, SDNs afford a number of benefits. Resellers will certainly find new opportunities to engage with customers—educating them about SDNs and selling new equipment. More exciting though is the emergence of new OpenFlow compliant services, which allow resellers to add value to the SDN, rapidly. Such services, particularly those developed by the reseller, increase the value of the SDN, improving customer retention.
SDNs also allow the channel to reach beyond the traditional networking markets. Resellers can package and deliver networking services for virtualization managers who may lack network expertise, but are becoming responsible for deploying and managing today’s virtualized applications. These services should require no network hardware or specialized tools.
Offloading tasks from an already over burdened networking team may ultimately be the best reason why IT should adopt SDNs and why resellers should sell them. The time to deploy new applications is shortened, improving IT agility. Network costs are reduced, much in the same way self-service password resets dramatically reduced the cost of help desk operations. All of which makes SDNs an opportunity for the channel to improve network operations, increase IT agility, and expand its own customer base.