Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

Companies are turning to software-centric approaches to control their computer networks. Software-defined networks (SDNs) will change traditional...

Companies are turning to software-centric approaches to control their computer networks. Software-defined networks (SDNs) will change traditional networks into rich service-delivery platforms by providing greater control and consuming less employee time

dr shanthi swaroopModern computer networks perform a wide array of tasks, from routing and traffic monitoring, to secure access control and server load balancing. Managing these networks is, however, extremely cumbersome since routers, switches, ports, firewalls, etc, are black boxes with proprietary control mechanisms. Current network technology has focused mainly on protocols designed to connect hosts reliably over arbitrary distances, link speeds, and topologies. Networking has become highly complicated and in many ways seems to have fallen behind the rest of the tech industry.

In the next wave of computing that has just started, 100s of millions of people with hand held mobile devices will require connectivity. Current networking technology is not equipped to scale to the much needed hyperscale networks of the future that need to provide high-performance and low-cost connectivity under very little manual intervention.

Companies are turning to software-centric approaches to control their computer networks as they move beyond decades-old infrastructure that wasn't designed for today's mode of interactions. Software-defined networks (SDNs) are poised to change this by offering a clean and open interface between networking devices and the software that controls them thus transforming traditional networks into rich service-delivery platforms.

Traditional networking hardware can be viewed as a lot of features baked into network boxes focusing mainly on decentralising decisions, operations, and actions. The original network designers focused on simplicity and minimality in delivering data and packets to their intended destinations. The algorithms and systems have since become complex and cumbersome to manage. A typical router has nearly 20 million lines of source code and each packet could go through hundreds of millions of gates. We now have access to significant computing capabilities allowing us to centralise our decisions and actions enabling us to holistically optimize the network chain, change process flows in the network structure, determine new ways to route packets, monitor users, make networks easier to configure, manage and troubleshoot.

SDN is often thought of as the abstraction of the control plane, or the system that decides where traffic flows across a network, from the data plane, which is the system that actually forwards traffic to its final destination. By moving the control of where the traffic flows to a separate software layer, applications can directly steer traffic across networks and specify the use of certain networking services independent of the underlying hardware. This software layer gives network administrators an opportunity to make their network device adjustments through a software interface instead of having to manually configure hardware and physically access network devices.

The main advantage of SDN is in the use of a centralised software program to intelligently control the behavior of an entire network bringing in more simplification and flexibility to network management. These smart networks can determine how much bandwidth is needed for a task and can assign it on demand allowing us to build high-capacity networks that are easier to configure, work faster, and are more efficient. As networks expand and cloud computing adds complexity to them, SDN provides greater control, a platform for new applications and promises to consume less employee time to deploy and manage.

Most of the big-name vendors such as Cisco, IBM, Alcatel, Juniper Networks, Broadcom, and others have already started their SDN initiatives. Hewlett-Packard recently announced switches that support OpenFlow which is an open source software that makes routers and switches programmable and flexible. Google uses a combination of Quagga open source software along with OpenFlow to optimize its data centers. There is and will be a lot of hiring in data centers, public clouds, campus networks, enterprise systems, cellular companies for networking-related skill sets.

It's clear that the future is more about software than about adding hardware as is evident from the push in cloud technology, virtualisation, etc. By 2016, the SDN market size is expected to reach $35 billion. The future of networking will rely more on software, which will accelerate the pace of innovation for networks as it has in the computing and storage domains. SDN promises to radically transform our current networks into programmable and intelligent platforms that can dynamically allocate resources on demand to support the high data throughput requirements of future data centers and cloud environments.


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