Demystifying Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

Demystifying Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

Demystifying Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

As enterprise and service provider networks have expanded in both size and scope, they have simultaneously grown in complexity, posing greater challenges for effective management. This surge in complexity is primarily attributed to the proliferation of disaggregated networks, incorporating components from various vendors with distinct management solutions.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) emerges as an important solution, simplifying network administration and facilitating vendor-agnostic approaches. This, in turn, offers heightened flexibility, a broader spectrum of choices, and enhanced avenues for growth. Consequently, SDN serves as a catalyst for pivotal trends like open networking, digital transformation, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

What is Software-Defined Networking (SDN)? 

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) revolutionises network management by enabling centralised control of diverse network components from various vendors, all orchestrated through unified controllers. This is achieved by abstracting the network hardware into a virtual layer and physically decoupling the network control plane from the forwarding plane, also known as the data plane. The forwarding plane directs network packets along the network, while the control plane orchestrates the flow of network traffic and is managed by one or more network controllers.

From a managerial perspective, the physical network components can be viewed as ‘dumb,’ designed to be administered through the SDN network manager where comprehensive intelligence is implemented through standard protocols. This enhances monitoring capabilities and offers scalability, control, vendor-agnosticism, and heightened productivity through open network management solutions. This approach aligns seamlessly with the evolving demands of expanding enterprise data centres.

How SDN Empowers Open Networking

Open networking encompasses the utilisation of open APIs, industry-wide standards, and open-source tools to establish a collaborative network environment. SDN plays a pivotal role in enabling open networking by mitigating compatibility issues between different vendors. It achieves this by delivering directives from SDN controllers based on universally accepted standards, rather than relying on distinct vendor-specific protocols.

This multi-vendor interoperability grants network administrators the freedom to seamlessly integrate top-tier components from a diverse range of vendors.

Key Differences Between SDN and NFV

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) both leverage virtualisation techniques to enhance the orchestration of network resources across diverse hardware platforms and devices.

SDN separates the network control plane from the forwarding plane, establishing a virtual control plane for centralised management. In contrast, NFV employs a hypervisor to decouple network functions from physical, proprietary hardware.

The key distinction lies in their focus: SDN provides comprehensive oversight of an entire network, while NFV is geared towards streamlining the control and scalability of specific network functionalities. For instance, NFV virtualises functions such as firewalls, network address translation, and load balancers for simplified administration.

When combined, SDN and NFV can yield synergistic benefits in optimising network management. Moreover, both technologies play a pivotal role in reducing dependence on vendor-specific hardware by adopting virtualised, open software-based solutions for network management.

Distinguishing SDN from SD-WAN

Both Software-Defined Network (SDN) and Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) are built upon the foundational concept of separating the control and forwarding planes, thereby advancing networking management through intelligent solutions.

SDNs are primarily tailored for Local Area Networks (LANs), empowering network administrators with the freedom to configure them according to their specific needs, offering a higher degree of autonomy and control.

On the other hand, SD-WANs specialise in interconnecting numerous enterprise locations over a broader geographical expanse in a Wide Area Network (WAN). These are typically configured by a vendor, providing a more convenient solution for certain enterprises seeking seamless connectivity across different locations.

What is the SDN OpenFlow protocol?

OpenFlow is a communications protocol specifically designed for Software-Defined Networks (SDNs). Its primary function is to grant access to the forwarding plane of network resources. OpenFlow stands out as the pioneering standard interface for decoupling the network control and data planes. This initiative is strongly supported by the Open Networking Foundation, which sees it as a pivotal enabler for SDN. Although there are now alternative protocols available, OpenFlow remains a cornerstone in the development of diverse SDN solutions.

Advantages of Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

The SDN market is projected to experience a 19% growth between 2020 and 2025. This surge is fuelled by the numerous benefits that SDN brings to both enterprises and operators.

  1. Enhanced Productivity: In contrast to the cumbersome task of managing hardware from various vendors, SDN streamlines the process by establishing a unified, software-based interface. This simplifies network management, enhancing the user experience and enabling network administrators to operate more efficiently.
  2. Heightened Security: Access rights, user privileges, firewall settings and other security configurations are seamlessly automated across devices and virtual machines within an SDN environment. The augmented visibility and monitoring capabilities also contribute to reducing security risks.
  3. Improved Cost Efficiency: SDNs often prove to be more cost-effective than standard industry hardware. This is because multiple functions can be run on a single off-the-shelf server. Consequently, resources can be consolidated, requiring less physical network infrastructure. This leads to reduced space and power consumption.
  4. Greater Scalability: Rather than having to invest in additional hardware, SDNs facilitate easy scaling up or down as per requirements. This high degree of flexibility aligns with cloud computing principles and is further bolstered by self-service provisioning of network resources.
  5. Enhanced Control: SDNs empower network managers with centralised control and direct programmability. By eliminating dependence on proprietary software, managers have the autonomy and flexibility to develop their own SDN automation programs. This also enables more dynamic optimisation and configuration of network resources.

SDN and Its Connection To Digital Transformation

SDN and digital transformation are closely intertwined. Initially adopted by industry leaders like Google for managing internal networks during the early stages of digital transformation, SDN is now becoming pervasive in enterprise data centres. This is in part due to the gravitational pull of the maturing digital transformation movement towards cloud-like infrastructure and automation. For example, SDN facilitates automated provisioning and can be seamlessly integrated with cloud orchestration platforms.

Moreover, SDN plays a pivotal role in the Internet of Things (IoT) and the concurrent rise of edge computing. Certain SDN controllers possess the intelligence to autonomously identify network congestion and take proactive measures to mitigate latency in remote and edge components. Additionally, SDN simplifies the process of securing, monitoring and segregating IoT devices across a network.

If your organisation is keen on discovering how SDNs can enhance your enterprise’s capabilities or is interested in exploring how a Smartoptics solution can benefit you, please reach out to a member of our IDS team today.