In our focus on digitisation and cloud computing, we should not overlook important infrastructural changes introduced in recent years. In 2010, the SDN (Software-Defined Network) made its debut; after seven years of development, we hailed the arrival of a new type of architecture as the basis for network operation.
Producers who introduced SDN to the market initially defined the technology in a number of different ways. Cisco described it as an “architecture based on three pillars: the virtualisation of software and hardware, management automation, as well as the mechanisms, protocols, and solutions that ensure the efficient operation of these two elements”. Today, we can talk of a new coherent definition focused on the understanding of Software-Defined Networking as a technology that separates network control from the network forwarding plane.
Virtualisation and automation allow costs to be cut, reduce the complexity of resource pooling, technological maintenance and other processes that support the data centre. SDN technology promptly moves networks into the era of cloud solutions: it communicates with the public cloud, networks in branch offices or IoT systems.
SDN – measurable business benefits
SDN introduces a new level of abstraction to networks based on connections between equipment, such as routers, switches and firewalls. Traffic continues to be physical in nature but data are steered by software. The control plane determines the pathway of network traffic, while the data processing plane is responsible for switching it in a quick and efficient manner. The idea of programmable networks was born in response to the following needs:
- the centralised configuration, management, control and monitoring of network devices,
- allowing external applications and systems to influence process efficiency,
- the quick and scalable development of network services to meet business needs,
- network security, i.e. the installation of virtual firewalls, coding devices, network monitoring services is easier, which allows the security of network traffic to be improved.
Cisco Systems Inc. has developed a whole range of products known as Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), characterised by close integration of physical and virtual components. These solutions transfer the programmable environment beyond the framework of equipment and infrastructure into applications and operational business activity. Press releases suggest that positive effects have already been observed within the private cloud CITEIS, where the VCE Vblock architectural solution was implemented. ACI enables a 12% optimisation of computing resources and a 20% increase in memory. Other producers, such as Juniper, Extreme and Arista, also offer their own SDN solutions. Their implementation ensures a high return on investment and allows the total cost of ownership to be reduced.
SDN – the future of network engineering
Does the programmable environment mean that engineers and administrators will now become C and Java* programmers? No, not even the best-designed programmable data centre is an easy-fix solution for all infrastructural problems. It is a continuous process, an attempt to see networks not only as an investment, but also as a business asset. The implementation of SDN requires significant maturity on the part of the organisation; the enterprise needs to understand the importance of application management and the role of network users beyond the simple issue of equipment capability.
Plans are also underway to introduce new solutions using the programmable management platform to control access to remote branch offices, i.e. SD-WAN, which will free companies from their reliance on a single communication channel. The solution’s greatest asset is that it helps reduce expenses related to WAN network acceleration and spending on equipment.
SDN can also be used for network microsegmentation. The basic idea is to separate fragments of the network for the end user and for the data centre. Resulting segments could have different security levels depending on the type of traffic. Strong security and strict control could be implemented for sensitive and confidential data, while public traffic could do with lower security levels.
There is no doubt that SDNs play a great role in setting the future course for network technologies and bring considerable benefits for companies, in simple business terms as well.
 Report: Software-Defined Networking Adoption Trends and Customer Experience