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GCN : October 2014
2 GCN OCTOBER 2014 • GCN.COM American Enterprise Survey, published in July cited “improv- ing management capabilities” as a top driver for deploying SDN among mid-sized and large North American organiza- tions. The market research company surveyed 101 purchase decision makers deploying SDN or planning to evaluate the technology by the end of 2015. Clifford Grossner, an analyst of data center, cloud and SDN at Infonetics, said SDN’s upgraded management capabilities stem from the ability to program a network via software. But improved visibility is another management plus, he noted. SDN can help organizations unify network management as op- posed to using multiple, fragmented management platforms. Government agencies can also benefit from improved appli- cation performance, which Infonetics identifies as a leading motivator behind SDN adoption. Applications have different bandwidth requirements, and “traffic shaping” via SDN lets networks respond to the varying needs. Grossner said SDN bolsters an organization’s ability to shape network traffic from end to end. In the past, networks would try to react to spikes and fluctu- ations in traffic already put on a network. The thinking behind SDN, Grossner said, is to register applications with a network so their bandwidth requirements become known before the traffic hits the network. “In some sense, [SDN] gives the net- work a chance to adapt to the application in a proactive way,” Grossner said. In contrast, a conventional network “has no visibility into what the application is or what it will do,” he added. THE CASE FOR SDN Government agencies involved in scientific and engineering applications in particular stand to gain from the flexibility of SDN, according to the members of the scientific community. Science applications produce enormous data flows, and SDN is expected to help them route those streams to the optimum network tier within an organization. SDN also fosters tighter security, noted Rob Vietzke, vice president of Network Services at Internet2, a member-owned advanced technology community that has been using SDN since 2012 as the sole transport layer for its research and edu- cation network. SDN improves security by promoting much more detail in the rules governing the partitioning of the network, which lets the community “write very specific rules and policies into the ways the networks work,” Vietzke said. SDN – and its advantages – also build upon current tech- nology trends, while providing a stepping stone toward future advances, according to its proponents. Accordingly, SDN’s software orientation puts the technol- ogy in close alignment with virtualization. Server, desktop and storage virtualization have already left a mark in data centers looking for greater efficiency and higher asset utiliza- tion. Virtualizing networking functions in software continues that pattern. In addition, SDN will help pave the way toward the soft- ware-defined data center, in which every IT resource will be virtualized and offered as a service. SDN, along with related technologies such as software-defined storage, will move or- ganizations toward the software-defined data center over time. “SDN is a critical element for moving toward a software- defined data center,” Grossner said. “It’s pretty hard to have a software-defined data center without a programmable net- work.” GOVERNMENT DEMAND CURVE SDN’s potential has piqued the interest of government agen- cies and public sector organizations. Higher education, where much of the initial research on SDN took place, ranks among the earliest adopters. In the fed- eral sector, science-centric agencies have taken the lead. The Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), for example, has been exploring SDN, and the National Science Foundation funds research in that field. The NSF-supported GOVERNMENT NAVIGATES TO SOFTWARE-DEFINED NETWORKS SDN – and its advantages – also build upon current technology trends, while providing a stepping stone toward future advances.
November and December 2014