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Software Defined Networking: Beyond the Hype

September 09, 2015

Software defined networking (SDN) is in the news just about every day. Is that much happening with SDN, or is all the news mostly hype?

Software defined networking (SDN) is in the news just about every day. Is that much happening with SDN, or is all the news mostly hype? Regardless of the answer, the important question is whether there’s a way SDN can improve network connectivity?

Let’s start by looking at this universal CIO challenge: Enterprise demand for wide area network (WAN) bandwidth has been increasing by 20 percent to 50 percent per year and will continue to grow at that rate through 2019, driven by the adoption of video and cloud applications, rich media and data center centralization.”* Compare that to the fact that the “average growth of IT budgets in the U.S. is 0.9 percent.**

What’s driving this skyrocketing demand for more and more bandwidth? First, take a look at the typical branch office for any business, and consider how many employees are coming into work with a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone—all connecting to the network via wireless access. Compare that to just a few years ago, when everyone at that branch office had a desktop computer, and that was it.

Obviously, more devices require more bandwidth. Add to that the fact that the applications those employees are accessing are very content rich, with graphics, audio, video, e-mail with attachments, web conferencing and more. That consumes a tremendous amount of bandwidth. Then consider how many of those applications reside in the cloud, instead of locally, consuming even more bandwidth to reach them.

When all of those applications were located in a data center, a private, walled-off network made a ton of sense, and for that architecture, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology delivered. Now that applications are everywhere – the company data center, third-party premises, the cloud – there’s a need for much more bandwidth. It’s necessary not only to support the business applications, but also to enable users to reach the Internet, and view and consume applications that reside elsewhere. For that, businesses today need a combination of the Internet and a private network – a network that can support huge amounts of scalability to accommodate that 40 percent a year bandwidth growth, and accomplish that affordably. That’s a big change from 10 years ago.

That escalating demand for bandwidth also brings a big cost for CIOs who rely on MPLS, which is widely recognized as being very expensive. So, is there anything other than MPLS available to more efficiently support these growing bandwidth needs? There is, by marrying the capabilities of broadband networking and Ethernet with the much-hyped technology of SDN.

Broadband networks are inherently very scalable. Broadband also is relatively inexpensive. In a nutshell, broadband provides highly scalable bandwidth and affordable pricing. But to provide the connectivity that CIOs need in their organizations’ branch offices, there needs to be secure any-to-any communications; the ability to steer traffic to the cloud or the company’s data center as the customer needs; to support class-of-service to carry latency-sensitive traffic; and to have reliable service level agreements. That’s where SDN comes into the picture.

SDN provides the ability to steer traffic to the right location, while adjusting the amount of bandwidth dedicated to the Internet or the company’s data center. It enables us to configure and support multiple classes of service for voice, video and data traffic. It allows us to configure on top of our scalable, cost-effective broadband and Ethernet foundation a very secure virtual private network (VPN) that keeps all traffic private and secure, without traversing the Internet. To that, we add industry-leading SLAs and we’re set. We’ve just created a highly scalable cost-effective alternative to MPLS.

Plus, this incredibly flexible approach to networking allows engineers and administrators to support networks and shape traffic from a centralized control – through software – without physically touching any hardware. The speed, flexibility and cost savings that brings are enormous benefits.

Now that’s a case for SDN that goes far beyond the hype.

*Gartner doc # G00277869, July 2015.
“Leverage Declining U.S. Telecom Prices to Control Enterprise IT Spending”

**Gartner doc #G00273468, January 2015
“2015 CIO Agenda: A U.S. Perspective”

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