Go with the SDN Flow

Dan Pitt, executive director, ONF
Dan Pitt, executive director, ONF

Software-defined networking (SDN) is the ‘next big thing’ that has arrived. Based on the OpenFlow standard protocol, which enables the physical separation of the networking control plane and infrastructure to create programmable networks, SDN has been gaining traction across the IT industry. Since the Open Networking Foundation (ONF)  establishment in 2011 to commercialize SDN — to develop the technology from Stanford research project to “industrial strength,” as ONF executive director Dan Pitt put it — the Foundation has built a “membership of more than 100, representing a cross section of the industry, including enterprise IT, cloud and telecom service providers, network equipment vendors, and silicon providers.”

Market acceptance has also been growing, fuelled in part by the deployment of SDN by poster adopters: Google’s revelation in the spring of 2012, for example, that it had achieved significant efficiency improvements through a two year redesign of its entire network based on OpenFlow was widely viewed as demonstration of SDN scalability and reliability. According to a new study conducted by  Plexxi, Light Speed Ventures and SDNCentral, an independent research and advisory firm focused on all things SDN, the global SDN market is poised for exponential growth, and will reach $35.6 billion by 2018 (up from $1.5 billion in 2013 — a CAGR of 88%). As SDxCentral report author, Matthew Palmer, explained: “the SDN market is going to have a much larger impact on network spend and in much shorter time than anyone has predicted publicly. We expect that between 30 and 40% of total networking spend could be influenced by SDN over the next six years, which means the total SDN market could reach $35B by 2018.”

So what is driving this market momentum? In large part, the answer lies in innovation — of the cloud/mobile variety. As data centres have become more complex, traditional approaches to network configuration and management have become bottlenecks to the rapid and automated computing characteristic of dynamic, virtualized environments. Manual network management through Command Line Interface, which is cumbersome at best and vulnerable to human programming error at worst, has not been able to keep pace with dynamic traffic needs in public and private clouds — a problem that has been exacerbated by increasing demands placed on enterprise networks by the mobile revolution. The result has been slow deployment of the network, application servers and VMs, and delay in the roll out of services to business — an outcome that is no longer acceptable to LOB managers in many businesses, who have turned to rogue deployment of siloed cloud services.

Programmable networks in SDN, on the other hand, enable new levels of centralized management and control, automation and dynamic provisioning of infrastructure resources to match cloud compute with virtual networking capability. As Pitt explained at the Layer123 SDN &OpenFlow APAC Congress on June 5, 2013, with SDN and OpenFlow “You now have a consistent system-wide programming interface, where you can take policy, security aspects, performance or compliance regulations and incorporate them into the path determination, and convey this down to the switches who don’t have to do any of the thinking any longer.”

Another key motivator for SDN adoption has been increasing enterprise confidence and demand for open source solutions that feature interoperability across heterogeneous data centre environments, cost advantage (over proprietary offerings), easier app integration, as well as enhanced opportunity for custom development. Movement towards open standards is gathering steam across the IT world: interest in OpenStack, for example, has begun to grow in both the user and the cloud vendor communities. With OpenFlow, these same benefits can be wrested from networking infrastructure, as a common set of instructions may be sent to any enabled switch, regardless of vendor.

Assessing existing barriers to more widespread adoption of SDN, Rajiv Khemani, executive-in-residence at VC firm NEA, has identified “confusion” among new customers over SDN’s “near-term value proposition in cost, performance or manageability” as an ongoing challenge. In a business white paper published this February, titled “Prepare for software-defined networking: Build the foundation for SDN with OpenFlow,” HP has taken a stab at this issue with a clear definition of the technology, and an outline of the benefits of its adoption. The company is well qualified to speak to the benefits of SDN: a founding member of the Open Networking Foundation and an active contributor to the OpenFlow standards effort, among vendors, HP was one of the earliest adopters. Back in 2008, the company demonstrated the first commercial, hardware-based switch implementation of OpenFlow at ACM SIGCOMM in 2008, and in May 2011, also participated in a public demonstration of OpenFlow at InteropNet Lab. Since then, HP has continued to advance the SDN cause — through research work with partners such as the Indiana Center for Network Transactional Research and Education (InCNTRE), and through implementation of OpenFlow across its own Virtual Networking Application portfolio.

HP now offers the most complete SDN solution, including 40 switch platforms that support OpenFlow, representing over 20 million installed ports, the Virtual Application Networks SDN controller and five SDN applications — the Virtual Cloud Network app, Sentinel Security app, Load Balancing app, WAN bursting app and the UC&C SDN app for Microsoft Lync.

For a deeper dive into some of the benefits of SDN, enabled by OpenFlow, access the HP Business White Paper, “Prepare for software-defined networking: Build the foundation for SDN with OpenFlow” here.

And in the meantime, consider HP’s advice for getting started: “In building SDN-ready network architecture, it is important to prepare the infrastructure layer for standards-based programmability. It is recommended that businesses ensure that all network infrastructure devices support the OpenFlow standard. OpenFlow support will future proof the network for SDN and provide investment protection without requiring a forklift upgrade. When businesses are ready, they can easily build out an SDN solution on top of the OpenFlow-enabled infrastructure.”

For more information, contact HP




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