How is SDN Different Than a Traditional Network?

Today’s top IT leaders know that their organization is only as successful and efficient as their least agile IT component. For many businesses today, that’s their enterprise network. That’s because the network is being asked to do more and more, and perform in ways it wasn’t designed to do. For example, cloud computing is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. Moving application and workloads to the cloud has driven more traffic over the Wide Area Network (WAN), stretching the conventional hub-and-spoke WAN architecture to its limits. Other software-as-a-service applications such as Unified Communication (UC) platforms are also now mission-critical. These multimedia applications that include voice and video capabilities are raising bandwidth requirements for organizations and requiring high Quality of Service network performance at all times. Geographically distributed databases and servers used in public and private cloud environments require additional bandwidth and more flexible traffic management to keep users and systems connected. Not only that, big data, mobile, and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives are shifting more computing resources across the network making the network and the WAN even more critical. 

Manual configurations strain traditional networks

This new digital paradigm is putting a strain on conventional network architectures to keep pace. In a conventional networking environment, network devices have control plane functions that are used to ‘make decisions’, relying on programmable rules, on where to send frames or packets that enter the network device, such as a switch. In this environment, whenever adding new applications or changing rules for how traffic flows across the network, changes must be made directly to the physical devices. Imagine how challenging this scenario is for IT teams with dozens or hundreds of network devices spread across branch offices or data centers? In trying to meet the requirements of today’s digital businesses, organizations are finding themselves restricted by the limitations of traditional enterprise network environments.

Software-defined networks – A smarter way forward

As the world becomes more network-centric, organizations need to find new ways to infuse greater flexibility into their network architecture. A software-defined network (SDN) accomplishes this through standardization and abstraction of network functions. SDN decouples the network and control forwarding functions enabling the network control to become programmable and the underlying infrastructure to be abstracted for applications and network services. (Source: OpenNet). By abstracting network functions, including the control plane functions, and placing them on an SDN controller running SDN software, IT teams gain centralized control. Using the controller and software network teams can communicate with the physical or virtual network devices using the OpenFlow networking protocol. With an Application Program Interface (API), teams can use a controller to make changes to the network controlling multiple devices, without having to learn several proprietary commands, or syntax, from vendors.  Because these networks are centrally managed and configured using open software they are programmable and can be changed based on new business requirements quickly. SDN makes today’s network environments much more dynamic, manageable, cost-effective, and adaptable. 

More network agility improves competitiveness 

In today’s high-bandwidth, cloud-based IT environment, companies need to adapt to new business challenges and to react to new market demands quickly. However, keeping up with changes with a traditional network architecture is challenging, time-consuming, and requires significant IT resources. Software-defined networking is emerging as a technology that can help businesses escape the traditional trappings of enterprise network design, enabling greater flexibility and the opportunity to companies to reduce operational costs and deploy new services virtually on-demand.

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