Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a technology that has turned traditional enterprise networking on its head.  SDN is a disruptive innovation because it essentially creates a virtualized version of the physical network, that can be centrally managed by software.  This centralized network control simplifies management and delivers end-to-end network automation and the streamlined delivery of network services. A new report by Technology Business Research (TBR) tells us that spending on network virtualization technology including software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) is expected to hit $157 billion by 2020 (Source: RCR Wireless).

One of the biggest drivers for increased adoption of SDN is the significant potential for cost savings both in CapEX and operational spending. The initial investment needed in SDN is relatively low because no expensive capital investments in hardware or networking devices are required (i.e. routers switches). And, while there are license fees for SDN solutions, some ship with an operating system like Microsoft’s Hyper-V Network Virtualization solution. Organizations looking to increase competitiveness by adopting SDN technology should set priorities and sync business challenges to key business benefits.

  • Faster network provisioning- In a traditional network environment, anytime provisioning or configuration had to be done to a network, an engineer has to manually manipulate the device. In a modern enterprise, that could include hundreds of network nodes. In the case of a data center or in a cloud environment, network configuration, provisioning (setup and management) and remediation are an all-out time-consuming effort. SDN, on the other hand, is all about policy-based automation of the entire network infrastructure from a centralized controller.
  • Network flexibility- SDNs create flexibility in how the network can be used and managed, with automated, on-demand application delivery.  It is a more agile network environment that can scale quickly to meet changing IT and business needs, such as preparing for cloud architectures or mobile deployments. It is also an open technology that is interoperable by nature, which adds to flexibility and options when selecting network controllers and devices. In fact, a network could be controlled by multiple SDN controller applications (from various vendors- assuming they are compliant with consistent SDN standards, such as OpFlex or OpenDaylight protocols).
  • More granular security- SDNs can handle the increased security demands being placed on today’s enterprises. This includes the proliferation of mobile devices, increased cloud adoption, and distributed network infrastructures. SDN solutions make networks more compartmentalized and manageable. SDN firewall policies, for instance, can be defined from a centralized point which gives managers greater visibility and control over the network. Not only that, SDN allows users to define an acceptable set of behaviors for each application. So if there is a ‘red flag,’ parts of the network can be isolated and remediated quickly.
  • More traffic pattern insight and control- Because SDN brings visibility into the traffic patterns across a network, managers also have better control over the traffic flow.  Instead of traditional network management tools that only show port-level views, SDN controllers deliver overall traffic flow visibility. This gives administrators more precise control. If traffic flow monitoring is a significant priority, look for SDN controllers and applications that show graphical traffic flow views and allow administrators to interact with the network topology to perform traffic engineering and network slicing. Some views also show data flow across the network, including stats on network topology, hosts, switches, routers, ports, and flows, all in real time.
  • Centralized network management- In an SDN environment, network managers write control software using APIs which then implement network and application policies on the SDN controller. Instead of relying on network protocols, with SDN, policies are based on business and application requirements. Most controllers also provide network information and analytics across the LAN and WAN, wired and wireless, and physical and virtual infrastructures. This is important because it gives network managers greater control, speed and automation capabilities for managing the network holistically and at every level.

At a time when cloud-based infrastructures and multi-tenant networks are the norms, software-defined networking offers a more effective way to manage inherent network complexities.  With increased visibility into network traffic flow and the ability to optimize traffic patterns programmatically, SDN streamlines network management and operations. It also offers automated provisioning and management capabilities which help network administrators get more done. It also supports the delivery of high-quality IT services expected by today’s dynamic business environments.