Over the last couple of months, I have been discussing Software-Defined Networking (SDN) with data center professionals around the world. It seems that many people are still trying to figure out what SDN is really all about and how it will impact their business. With that in mind, I thought a two-minute introduction to SDN would be helpful to a lot of folks.
What is Software-Defined Networking (SDN)?
In contrast to traditional networking equipment, SDN decouples the logic that makes decisions about where the traffic is sent from the underlying system that forwards traffic to a given destination. This technology is disruptive because Cisco, Juniper and the other IT powerhouses have made a fortune by selling physical networking devices that contain pieces of proprietary software designed to perform the two functions in the same physical machine. When the logic that makes decisions about where the traffic is sent is removed and replaced with a single virtualized controller that centrally configures all network equipment, the expensive devices can be replaced with commodity servers causing a large shift in the business dynamics.
A case in point: rumor has it that Amazon would have reduced the size of a billion dollar order to Cisco to a mere $11 million after having started migration to SDN. Although this has all the makings of a fine fishing story, it does give a prime example of the magnitude the network industry will be going through.
What’s driving SDN?
SDN is largely driven by growing application density in data centers. As cloud computing brings about automation and self-service, the number of applications run in an average data center is expected to increase rapidly. Communication between all these applications currently involves a routing mechanism that does not enable direct connections, but rather involves climbing up and down a routing stack that makes a game of ping pong pale in comparison. SDN has been designed to remove the net from the ping pong table: since you no longer need the bounce, you can simply roll the ball directly to your friend. It’s easier, quicker and more economical.
Will SDN revolutionize networking?
Yes and no. As far as data centers tasked with running and scaling up various cloud platforms are concerned, SDN will allow them to scale better while reducing costs through automation. But if you are a home user or someone operating a network backbone, the chances are that it will take a long time before SDN will have an impact on you.
Although SDN is still admittedly in its infancy, it holds a promising future. Research firm International Data Corporation predicts the market for SDN technologies will grow to $3.7 billion by 2016. No wonder then that the networking industry juggernaut Cisco is changing its game plan by switching its focus on SDN. Only time will tell how that works out.
By Juha Holkkola,
Juha is managing director of Nixu Software Oy Ltd, the cloud application deployment company, and an affiliate of Nixu. He joined Nixu in early 2000 and has since held various business and sales management positions. Before Nixu, Juha worked for Nokia Networks and financial services company Danske Bank in marketing and treasury positions.