Will software-defined networks define the future data centre?

Will software-defined networks define the future data centre?

Virtualisation in technology is nothing new. Services, platforms, infrastructure – all are now available on-demand, scalable, pay as you go.

But the concept of virtual, software-defined networks (SDN)? By 2024 the SDN market is expected to reach $88 billion.

What’s fuelling the projected increase? The growth in cloud computing and data solutions. Global IP traffic is predicted to grow “3-fold from 2014 to 2019, a compound annual growth of 23%”.

Here’s the thing: On-premises infrastructure can only go so far in meeting the needs of the “third platform”. Whereas software-defined networks can future-proof business and data centres.

Here’s why.

Traditional networks rely on individual routers and switches. Which require manual configuration. So if an organisation wants to upgrade, someone has to make physical changes. Any improvement in processes relies on hardware implementation. Vendor lock-in is also more common, which affects the benefit-cost ratio. Whether a business chooses to stay with existing infrastructure, or make a change, the process usually costs significant amounts of time and money.

The SDN difference

A SDN separates a network’s control plane from its data and application planes. Real-time configuration comes from a central console. The cloud becomes a central element to harnessing SDN. Teams can be agile, with the ability to program a network environment in real-time. Network scalability will ensure workloads can be balanced and provisioned dynamically – increasing volume, variety and velocity.

The issue of vendor lock-in can be reduced by the use of OpenFlow, which is supported by the Open Network Foundation. This communications protocol is open source, and can be deployed between an SDN’s control and forwarding layers. Network switch and router providers, including Cisco, IBM, and Hewlet-Packard, are supporting OpenFlow.

The future

Think of how consumer-driven IT and BYOD culture has accelerated company transformations. SDN promises the same culture-shift among systems administrators.

For examples of companies already harnessing SDN, look no further than Google. Its data centres are now interconnected via SDN. Jim Wanderer, Director of Engineering at Google, explains more…

“The problems we wanted to address were all too familiar to those managing large networks:

  • Big networks don’t behave predictably enough
  • Failure response and performance is suboptimal
  • Difficulties in configuring and operating large networks
  • Dependency on manual, error-prone operations
  • Not starting from scratch – need to connect to existing networks

Google couldn’t have achieved the results it has without SDN,” he adds. “As a result of this success. Google is now committed to further SDN deployments.”

It’s fair to say Google isn’t your average company, which means SDN may not be a viable option for most at present. Many voices in the tech industry still regard SDN as “wait and see”. Gartner placed SDN “near the trough” of its Hype Cycle, attributing this to “too much marketecture, and not enough real-world implementations.” More recently,

However, for innovation to thrive, the necessary infrastructure needs to be in place, now and in the future. “The Zettabyte Era” is placing unprecedented demands on data centres. So what’s the solution? Increasing the amount of physical infrastructure? Or looking at software-defined alternatives?