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5 key benefits of SDN in the data centre

Wed 22 Jun 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Remember when most software came in boxes? It seems the memory of the old CD-ROM is now long gone, with programs like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop easily accessible over the Internet. 

With almost any program available at our fingertips, it is undeniable software continues to impact businesses across the board. In fact, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen once claimed that software is “eating the world,” – an image that gives a sense of the extent to which software is really influencing the use of technology. 

In addition to playing a role in the myriad of consumer-facing applications and services available, software is hard at work behind the scenes, and even influences how data centres operate.

For example, let’s start with virtualisation. Virtualisation was a big change for data centre operators since it automated and streamlined server provisioning.

However, virtualisation didn’t truly modernise network and storage infrastructure for the next wave of business challenges stemming from technologies like cloud computing. 

Rather, virtualisation is focused entirely on computer/server workload and doesn’t concern itself with virtualising network or storage. Fully deployed virtualisation (virtual machines, or VMs) didn’t change traditional networking or storage strategies.

Here’s where software-defined networking (SDN) comes in, a concept that brings the flexibility and economy of software to data centre hardware.

SDN is essentially a way of making a network programmable by decoupling control from the underlying hardware and reassigning it to a software-based controller. To that end, protocols like OpenFlow have been pivotal in the evolution of SDN, since they are open standards that are not tied to any particular gear or vendor.

Accordingly, a network designed for SDN can be both flexible and vendor-neutral, which benefits data centre operators, network operators, customers, and end users alike. 

With SDN, updating a policy or optimising for a particular application is a matter of programming the software, rather than buying a new appliance or wrangling with a proprietary physical interface. 

The benefits of SDN have greatly increased uptake, with an expected global spend of US$12 billion by 2020 to replace legacy technologies, according to Technology Business Research. 

So what are SDN benefits? Imagine the types of applications that have become viable only in the last few years, such as high-definition (HD) video and audio streaming, as well as cloud-based productivity suites. 

These solutions are high-bandwidth and dynamic, meaning that they may sometimes require large amounts of resources that traditional, static networks can’t reliably deliver. More specifically, outlined below are five key benefits that SDN offers in the data centre:

  • Dealing with big data: Organisations are keen to comb through large data sets using parallel processing, but doing so requires ample bandwidth. SDN can help by more effectively managing throughput and connectivity.
  • Supporting cloud-based traffic: The rise of the cloud is one of the biggest trends in IT and telecomms. Cloud is predicated on the idea of on-demand capacity and self-service, which SDN can dynamically deliver based on demand and availability of resources within the data centre.
  • Managing traffic to many IP addresses and virtual machines: SDN allows for dynamic routing tables so that routing prioritisation can be achieved based on real-time network feedback, making control of virtual machines simpler to manage
  • Making infrastructure scalable and agile: Using SDN, devices can be more easily added to the network, lowering the risk of service interruption. At the same time, SDN better fits the parallel processing and overall design of virtualised networks.
  • Managing policy and security: SDN can be used to more efficiently and effectively propagate security policies throughout the network, including firewalling devices and other essential elements.

With these benefits in mind, it makes sense that SDN in the data centre is gaining traction. As major enterprises and communications providers continue to drive the demand for SDN – as well as cloud computing and big data – it’s clear that SDN will contribute significantly to how technology is used in the near future.  

Article by Damien Spillane, Head of Engineering, Digital Realty Australia 

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