home About EPS Global Blog February 2019 6 reasons your network needs the SDN makeover

6 reasons your network needs the SDN makeover

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Written by: Barry McGinley Avatar 2/19/2019

SDN’s rise to prominence has shown all the similarities of a butterfly’s metamorphosis in its fledgling years. The first stage being the egg. The seed of the idea of what might be. The second stage is the caterpillar, or the feeding stage, when early adopters like Facebook beavered away tirelessly to turn the idea into something tangible. The third stage, the pupa, or the transition stage has just ended with SDN moving into every facet of networks. Finally, the adult stage is upon us. SDN is now ready to spread its wings, take flight outside the Data Center and show the world its true colours.

Software Defined Networking has revolutionized data centers in its ability to control, manage and dynamically change the network as the business need demands. Don’t believe me? Just ask Facebook, Amazon and Google!! Now, we see it invading the enterprise space with SD-WAN, and the carrier, 5G and IoT markets with CORD (Central Office Re-Architected as a Data Center). In this blog post I will look at where the old and new generations of SDN have pervaded and why.

As we spoke about in the previous blog: Open Networking: The Death of Proprietary Solutions?, the separation of the control plane and data plane was the first step in the SDN architecture. Using whitebox switches from Edgecore or Quanta to concentrate solely on the forwarding of data, freed up the control plane to do a lot more than it had previously been capable of. Software now evolves separately from hardware and is moving at an electric pace.

1.    Putting the software in SDN

This is where the real magic of SDN takes place. There are now offerings for all major use cases, either with or without a controller. Just to give you some quick examples for common networks:

These are just some of the software vendors in this space. I have purposely left out some of the bigger brand names because their hardware is not interoperable, and therefore is not part of Open Networking. The choice of software is crucial to the successful deployment of SDN but the flavor you choose is entirely optional. For smaller data centers a controller would not be required, so Cumulus would be ideal. On the other hand if you had multiple data centers these could all be managed from one device using Pluribus’s Fabric. The point being, it is open and disaggregated so the choice of which hardware and software is yours to make.

2.    Centralized Network View

The idea of managing an entire network or multiple networks from one device seemed hard to imagine a decade ago. Having a centralized controller or creating a fabric has made this a reality. Not just one network but multiple can be managed from one device (with Pluribus managed from any device on any of the networks!!). The days of manually configuring each switch on your network are a thing of the past. Even without a specific network controller this is still possible. Using configuration management tools like Chef, Puppet or Ansible, templates can be pushed to the switches saving time and eliminating errors.

3.    Security

Every device, architecture, or network approach is judged on its level of security and ability to withstand attack, SDN is no different in this regard. Of course, there are security concerns with SDN, the controller being a single point of failure and possibly susceptible to denial of service (DoS) attacks. Also, with the controller being the key to the city, any attack here would be catastrophic so protection here is paramount. The benefits though, far outweigh the risks. Some of the benefits include:

  • Centralized control improves the distribution of policies and the enforcement of said policies.
  • Centralized control allows for better event response and analysis when something malicious does take place.
  • Re-routing of traffic and infrastructure changes are simplified.
  • NFV (Network Function Virtualization) and SDN used in association will save on hardware costs.
  • Upgrading and patching is simplified.


4.    Show me the money = OPEX Savings!

AT&T are in the process of visualizing 75% of their network using SDN. The project is on the home stretch now, and on course to be completed by 2020. They have said they will see operating savings of between 40 – 50%. These saving are mainly due to manual operations being replaced by automated scripts and procedures. Who couldn’t do with reducing running costs by half!!!

5.    SD-WAN and CORD 

Two of the new kids on the block in the SDN, open networking world. The former, SD-WAN (Software Defined – Wide Area Network), uses the same principals of the separation of control and data planes and brings this to the WAN. This allows companies to build better performing WANs and replace expensive methods of private WAN like MPLS.

To give you an example, a company with 500 branches worldwide not using SD-WAN wants to roll out a new web application. The local router in each of the 500 branches will need to be configured separately. This is a slow, cumbersome way of doing this and there is no guarantee the configurations have been done correctly at each location. Using SD-WAN, a centralized controller pushes this config to all 500 devices. It really can be that simple!!

The latter is CORD, or central office rearchitected as a datacenter. Started by the ONF in 2016, it aims to change the way things are done on the edge (this is where the operators connect to their customers) of the Telco network. Leveraging SDN, NFV and cloud technologies, CORD is building agile data centers using open source projects and hardware. Edgecore, for example, have built the world’s first whitebox cell site router and open packet transponder for this market. 

6.    Show me the money = CAPEX Savings!

We are again going to look at how the world of SDN will save your company money. This time, it’s the savings accrued on capital expenditure when using SDN in conjunction with NFV. In research commissioned by Affirmed Networks Inc. and VMware Inc., ASG Research concluded that savings of up to 68% on CAPEX were possible using NFV. Not only this, but that it would take 6 months to roll out as opposed an average of 15 months using traditional technology. 

That particular research is really only looking at virtualization savings, but in addition to this, there are colossal savings to be made on hardware and software. Whitebox switches form the backbone of SDN networks and are a fraction of the price of traditional switches. Together, with software packages to suit every use case, the decision to switch (excuse the pun) has never been easier.

For advice, or more technical information on products or SDN give me a shout or you can browse our Open Networking products here.

Slán go fóill,

Glossary of Terms

  • CORD – Central Office Rearchitected as a Data Center.
  • SD-WAN – Software Defined Wide Area Network
  • IoT – Internet of Things
  • 5G – 5th generation of cellular mobile communication
  • Linux – Family of free open-source operating systems
  • ONF – Open Networking Foundation
  • OCP – Open Compute Project
  • SDN – Software Defined Networking
  • Edgecore – White box ODM
  • Quanta – White box OEM
  • Data Plane – Deals with packet forwarding
  • Control Plane – Management interface for network configuration
  • ODM – Original design manufacturer
  • OEM – Original equipment manufacturer
  • Cumulus Linux – Open network operating system
  • Pluribus – Network monitoring and SDN fabric solution
  • Pica8 – Open standards-based operating system
  • Big Switch Networks – Cloud and data centre networking company
  • IP Infusion – Whitebox network operating system 
  • OS – Operating system
  • White Box – Bare metal device that runs off merchant silicon
  • ASIC – Application-specific integrated circuit
  • CAPEX – Capital expenditure
  • OPEX – Operating expenditure
  • MAC - Media Access Control
  • Virtualization – To create a virtual version of something including hardware
  • Load Balancing – Efficient distribution of incoming network traffic to backend servers
  • Vendor Neutral - Standardized, non-proprietary approach along with unbiased business practices
  • CORD – Central Office Rearchitected as a Data Center
  • SD-WAN – Software Defined Wide Area Network
  • NFV – Network Function Virtualization
  • RTBrick – Web scale network OS
  • Snap Route – Cloud native network OS
  • MPLS – Multiprotocol label switching
  • DoS – Denial of service attack
  • ONOS – Open source community hosted by the Linux Project

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