Top Five Apps and Services That Can Benefit from SDN

SDN is changing the way data center networks are managed and used. Here are the top five ways you can take advantage of this new technology

Bill Kleyman

March 31, 2016

6 Min Read
Top Five Apps and Services That Can Benefit from SDN
(Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

Today, managers are looking at next-generation solutions that will change the way cloud and data center resources are controlled. More than 80 percent of respondents to the latest AFCOM State of the Data Center survey said that have already deployed or will be deploying between now and 2016 software-defined networking or some kind of network function virtualization. Furthermore, 44 percent have deployed or will be deploying OpenStack over the course of the next year.

You read that correctly; most are already in some way deploying or looking at next-generation networking technologies. It’s important to understand the reasoning behind such big trends. Organizations are seeing the direct benefits around deploying SDN and the types of services and applications it can optimize.

With that, let’s define SDN and look at the top five applications and services SDN can directly impact and optimize.

Defining Modern SDN

With SDN, at a very high level, administrators are able to control and manage entire network through the abstraction of higher-level functionality.

This is accomplished by abstracting the layer which manages how traffic is distributed and where it’s being sent: the control plane. The underlying system helps control traffic destination: the data plane. To make SDN work, there has to be some kind of communication between the two planes, even though management is abstracted.

It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. The goal of SDN is to create a very dynamic and highly-programmable network infrastructure that's capable of controlling underlying infrastructure components while still being abstracted from applications and network services. This allows for better programmability across all networking layers, better agility, central management, and an open-standards architecture.

This means that SDN can drastically simplify network design by allowing administrators to aggregate physical resources, point them to an abstracted management layer (SDN), and create intelligent, programmatically configured controls around the entire network. This means you can present network resources to applications and other resources.

The administrator has visibility into the entire network flow architecture. Applications or resources using that network simply see a logical switch.

SDN’s abstraction concept fundamentally simplifies some of today’s most complicated and fragmented networking ecosystems. This is why we’re seeing so much adoption in the data center space. Organizations use SDN to deal with complexity, improve policy control, improve scalability, and remove vendor dependencies. Most of all, SDN helps with new concepts, such as the Internet of Things, cloud integration and cloud services, Big Data, and even improving IT consumerization and mobility.

Top Five Applications and Services SDN Supports and Optimizes:

  1. Security Services. The modern virtualization ecosystem supports specific virtual services running within the network layer. This means incorporating functions like NFV into SDN platforms. This type of network security creates a truly proactive environment capable of reducing risk and responding to incidents much more quickly. When a breach occurs, every second is critical in stopping the attack. Also important is the capability to identify the attack and ensure that other network components are safe. As the network layer becomes even more critical -- and as the modern organization becomes even more digitized – we’ll see more attacks and more sophisticated advanced persistent threats. By integrating powerful security services into the SDN layer, you help create a more proactive environment that’s capable of responding to change.

  2. Network Intelligence and Monitoring. Modern SDN technologies are helping abstract one of the most critical layers within the data center: the network. Network architectures are much more complex and have to handle more data than ever before. This means knowing what’s flowing through your environment is critical. Do you have latency issues on a port? What if you’re running a heterogeneous network architecture? Or, are you heavily virtualized and are passing a lot of traffic through the network layer? All of these challenges are alleviated when you have a solid network intelligence and monitoring layer. However, you gain true insight and benefit by integrating these technologies into your SDN architecture. Traffic flow, port configurations, hypervisor integration, alerting, and even optimization can be integrated into network intelligence and monitoring technologies. Most of all, these types of agile systems will further help you monitor network traffic between your data center and your cloud ecosystem.

  3. Compliance and Regulation-Bound Applications. Major cloud vendors are now offering the capability to store and work with compliance-bound workloads. Now, organizations have the option of extending architectures which were originally very limited because of regulations into distributed environments and the cloud. But how do you segment the traffic? How do you ensure that compliance and regulation workloads are persistently secured and monitored? This is where SDN can help. Network traffic traveling between switches, network points, and even hypervisors can all be controlled in an SDN architecture. Remember, this layer abstracts virtual functions and hardware controls. This powerful layer can then span various locations, virtualization points, and even cloud locations.

  4. High-Performance Applications. We’re seeing a boom in new types of application technologies. Virtualization has allowed the delivery of rich apps like GIS, CAD, engineering, and graphics design software. Traditionally, these workloads needed bare-metal architectures with their own connection. However, with virtualization, applications are streamed and VDI can help create powerful desktop experiences. However, at the network layer we also see the integration of SDN into application control. Creating powerful QoS policies, securing confidential data, segmenting heavy traffic, and even creating threshold alerts around bottlenecks. All of these functions within SDN help support high-performance, rich applications which are being delivered via virtualization.

  5. Distributed Application Control and Cloud Integration. One of the biggest benefits of SDN is its capability to extend across the entire data center. This type of agility integrates distributed locations, cloud, and the entire organization. SDN allows for critical network traffic to pass between various locations, regardless of the type of underlying network architecture. By abstracting critical network controls you allow for easier movement of data between data center and cloud locations. Because SDN is a form of network virtualization, you can use powerful APIs to not only integrate with a cloud provider; you can control specific network services as well. This allows you to granularly manage your workloads while keeping your business agile.

Now that you have a clearer picture, know that your organization may very well have use cases for other SDN functions as well. The key, however, is understanding how SDN can positively impact your data center and your business. SDN fundamentally simplifies the entire networking layer and gives you granular control around applications, services, and your distributed data center ecosystem. Most of all, SDN helps you design a business capable of adjusting to market shifts and changes in the industry. This allows your organization to be truly agile and productive.

About the Author(s)

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman has more than 15 years of experience in enterprise technology. He also enjoys writing, blogging, and educating colleagues about tech. His published and referenced work can be found on Data Center Knowledge, AFCOM, ITPro Today, InformationWeek, NetworkComputing, TechTarget, DarkReading, Forbes, CBS Interactive, Slashdot, and more.

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