IT Management

SDN: “Simply Done Nothing?” With a name that is as clear, you wouldn’t have thought that there is room for vagueness to surround this technology. Yet, the need to explicate an innovation in software has never been more acute than with Software-Defined Networking (SDN). SDN’s introduction has become a paradox of sorts, where clarity (of its name) and mystery (that surrounds everything else beyond the moniker) coexist, offering little help to most IT execs by way of aiding the adoption. SDN started from Ph.D. work sponsored by the Clean Slate program at Stanford back in 2008, and has been available since 2009. But, still, it appears that people who understand SDN are in the minority of the fortunate and the brave. For the rest, SDN still merely represents “been there, if that, but simply done nothing about it.”

Well, SDN is compelling and mature enough to deserve better. It is the critical missing link in the modernization of the enterprise data center, which is where it is headed, after having made a strong impression on telecom carriers and cloud service providers (CSPs).

The demystification of SDN is better achieved if we take a more workload-centric view and see how SDN can indeed be the answer to the inadequacies of traditional networks when it comes to handling the accountability, configuration and scalability needs of emerging application workloads—in the brave new world of hybrid enterprise clouds, mobility and big data.

The Trouble With Traditional Gear

IT’s on-going discontent with traditional networks is heavier than most people realize, and it hurts business agility in many different ways. Here is a list of those woes:

• Having to touch every single proprietary networking device, to make sure company/ private devices are configured—in the campus and at branches. Forty percent of the organizations do run apps across data centers, and chores such as network segmentation, traffic management and provisioning affect critical business operations, let alone agility.

• Inability to manage all endpoints (both physical and virtual) centrally

• Putting up with a network utilization that has been hovering around an abysmal 30 to 40 percent

• Playing catch-up to the increasing footprints of enterprise cloud services such as those for e-mail, CRM, ERP, corporate voice/video, etc., which come with different network implications for protocols, bandwidths and access control.

- Most CSPs faced this limitation first due to the complex mix of (multitenant) workloads they have been handling.
- Many enterprises have a few hundred VMs today with plans that will drive that number up.
- A quarter of large enterprises have mature implementations of SOA and Web services.

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