SDN: Really Important To The Network, Yet Confusion Reigns

By | April 04, 2013

Posted in: Network Security Trends

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is one of the latest network operation buzzwords, promising to revolutionize cloud and enterprise networks alike. The concept is so vital, that most organizations consider it the single most important network technology initiative, according to a new survey.

Despite its importance, many companies are still apparently rather confused about SDN. When presented with a list of five different IT initiatives, 87 percent of respondents in Tail-f Systems Software Defined Networking Survey chose SDN as the most important important, surpassing virtualization, mobility and even cloud. Yet only 51 percent of survey respondents were able to select a correct definition of SDN.

Security Bistro spoke to Carl Moberg, VP of Technology for Tail-f Systems, an SDN vendor, who said that the pace of network evolution might be exacerbating this confusion.

"Initiatives like moving towards virtualized server workloads and the use of public or private cloud environments add new requirements on how agile the network needs to be," said Moberg. "Current best practices and highly manual processes are far too slow and error prone for this. We believe the respondents associate SDN with being able to automate changes to the network."

So what exactly is SDN?

In their unending quest to keep network operations flexible, organizations are always searching for ways to heighten efficiency and strengthen controls. SDN is supposed to do just that, an approach to networking in which the control plane (where traffic is sent) and data plane (the traffic's destination) are decoupled, giving control over network traffic flow to a centralized software application.

Gartner notes that while "SDN is creating a lot of excitement in data centers, current technology is still relatively immature."

Moberg is not so sure, maintaining that SDN provides network operators with much needed agility, allowing for an implementation that successfully complements  existing IT practices.

"[SDN provides] automation and programmability features that resonate well with emerging (and also software oriented) approaches for large scale management like what we're seeing with the DevOps movement. SDN will eventually allow for complete and holistic manageability of [enterprise] IT assets," he said.

This is why most of the survey respondents -- 89 percent -- are discussing SDN. This is due, in large part, to the sheer volume of new network applications and services IT personnel are being forced to incorporate. And at a much faster pace than ever before.

Security is one of the reasons SDN has such an appeal. The automation of processes allows IT administrators to implement security measures that follow applications, rather than the whole of the network, creating a more logical security plan.

In order to incorporate SDN into their IT infrastructure, Moberg suggest enterprises focus on networking applications and services, not the actual network. By automating applications and services, organizations will realize greater benefits when deploying SDN within their network environments.

"Centralize what you can, distribute the rest – the key to SDN is centralizing control plane functionality. But not all control plane functionality is best served by such centralization," he added.

Tail-f’s 2013 Software Defined Networking Survey represents 237 organizations from the United States and Canada. Responses came from companies with more than 1,000 employees. All respondents are largely involved with designing, implementing or managing their organizations’ network infrastructures.

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