The Promise Of SDN - InformationWeek

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10/3/2014
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Glenn Evans
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The Promise Of SDN

SDN has the potential to make network deployment and operations much easier. InteropNet built an SDN lab to see how production-ready these technologies are.

As a person who designs, builds, and operates networks (including in some hostile environments) I’m intrigued by the potential for software-defined networking. 

For example, in my role of an Event Networking architect, the promise of SDN and NetOps to automate many of the manual deployment and operations tasks would be welcome in the fast-paced, change-is-guaranteed environment of a live event.

We need to make the network aware and able to respond and reconfigure as required based on changing conditions, such as increased network traffic or new organizational or operational policies.

Of course, there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome to turn promises into reality.

For one, there needs to be a change in mindset about how to deal with network traffic, services, and clients. It’s not just about switches, routers, and circuits.

As an industry I think we need to look at the development and interoperability of policy or application packages that can be deployed to solve particular challenges or meet organizational or operational goals.

For example, just a laptop or a smartphone has apps to handle email, banking, games, and so on, why can’t we do the same with the network? Think of it as a Network Operating System upon which we layer applications to do specific tasks. These can be security-related, quality-of-service-related or more.

Looking forward, we’ll likely see a move to package and distribute policy or scenario “snippets” that can be simply downloaded. It’s starting to happen already; HP launched an SDN app store that includes a variety of curated and community-supported applications.

InteropNet wanted to see whether SDN is production-ready. To that end, we built an SDN Lab for Interop New York to test SDN concepts and technologies. A small team of vendor engineers and volunteers came together to demonstrate what’s available right now and where SDN can go. 

The lab put together some interesting demonstrations based on real-world scenarios, and we shared our learnings with attendees through whiteboard sessions and tours. Did we cover every possible scenario? Not likely. One challenge is to ensure compatibility and interoperability to maintain the integrity of the network.

That said, the indications are that SDN will provide value to the enterprise, but there’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done before it becomes commonplace.

Glenn Evans, founder and CEO of Acrux Consulting, is the lead network engineer for the InteropNet project. He brings more than 25 years of systems and networking experience in both management and technical operations, including 15 years in the event space. View Full Bio

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