Industry Trends

Security 101: SDN - The Promise of Potential

By Stefanie Hoffman | September 12, 2013

Software defined networking: By now most are in the process of becoming familiar with its myriad benefits. At first blush, it appears to be yet another technology trend and faddish buzz-word that has captured the attention of the media and IT industry alike. But behind all of the hype is a fundamentally new technology that holds a strong potential to transform the IT industry.

Here's why: Prior to SDN, networking entailed a labor-intensive manual process requiring a lot of coordination and installation of physical hardware managed through a command line interface.

SDN fundamentally changes all that. So what does SDN do exactly?

At its core, SDN comprehensively virtualizes computer and network resources. More specifically, that virtualization entails decoupling the system comprised of the data planes, which carries data packets from one port to another, the control plane, which ensures data packets are forwarded correctly, and the management plane, which enables administrators to configure devices locally or remotely via a network management tool.

The act of virtualizing these components, in turn, gives administrators the ability to manage network services as virtual services. It also provides a common unified framework for accessing shared networking information and allows centralized remote control of network traffic without having to physically access network switches.

And the implications are numerous. If you've paid attention to headlines, you'll note that IT industry has lauded software defined networking (SDN) for its speed, scalability, and flexibility, which has lead to accelerated productivity, new efficiencies and the creation of new business models. In short, the emergence of SDN will likely forever change the way users consume technology services.

SDN 101

Among its untold benefits, SDN promises to improve management of physical networks and re-architect data centers. It can create new efficiencies in routing traffic. And it ensures that network capacity be scaled quickly and securely for specific uses. It also allows users to safely access shared-infrastructure, as well as available bandwidth, which results in decreased network utilization costs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, SDN is starting to pique the interest of IT markets that are watching the technology with great interest. And while still a nascent market, the opportunities related to SDN appear to be growing.

While still yet to reach its full potential, thus far the list of SDN's vast and diverse implications include:

Accelerated Application Speed and Intelligence:

SDN gives administrators the ability to manage data flow at the control plane level, which speeds productivity and places intelligence at the edge of the network.

Reduced Costs and Eliminates Overhead:

Among other things, SDN is hailed for its ability to streamline, manage and customize network operations, as well as reduce storage bandwidth. The reason? It gives organizations the ability to conduct transactions when needed. That, in turn, allows enterprises to dramatically cut costs, while also better tracking resource usage.

Optimized Workloads:

As previously mentioned, SDN gives administrators the ability to customize network activity to meet specific workload demands and patterns. That list of optimization benefits also include enabling rapid configuration and deployment, which serves to increase efficiencies that elevate ROI.

Increased and Sustained Revenues:

It's been established that SDN provides IT administrators much needed flexibility and scalability, while enabling them to customize infrastructure at the discretion of the organization. Considering that the IT department represents the center of operations and control for most industries, those efficiencies create an obvious pipeline to the organization's bottom line. The ability to immediately cater to specific customer demand, for example, can quickly and easily boost profit margins, while also creating loyalty that translates to customer retention.

Facilitation of Virtual Application Networks:

In addition, SDN paves the way for administrators to implement transparent Virtual Application Networks that then sets the stage for automation, mobility and enable cross-data referencing of virtualized information.

**Elimination of Vendor Lock-In: **

It goes without saying that legacy proprietary infrastructure -- constituting servers, switches and routers -- demands constant upgrades, maintenance and support. As such, it represents one of the most significant cost centers in the overall IT budget, in particular because organizations are required to continually fulfill contractual obligations for proprietary infrastructure that has often outlived its usefulness. And all too often, those obligations end up impeding business-critical objectives and boost expenses. SDN, on the other hand, can eliminate reliance on any one proprietary vendor, while giving them the ability to tailor their IT systems to satisfy their specific requirements.

But despite growing fervor, SDN is still a relatively unknown entity. And users are cautiously optimistic, thus far still weighing the opportunities against the investment.

As with any new technology, users will likely have to cut through the hype surrounding SDN to determine its real value for their organization. For most organizations, there will be extensive trial and error as the technology evolves and reaches its stride. And, similarly to historic technology trends, its ultimate success will be contingent upon the amount of research put behind its execution.

Whether it will deliver on its promises remains to be seen.

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