Seeking Solutions through SDN
One of the trend’s that is gaining momentum today is around a concept called Software Defined Networking, or SDN for short. Similar to server virtualization, SDN allows IT administrators to manage network services through abstraction of lower level functionality. This is done by separating the system that makes decisions about where traffic is sent (the control plane) from the underlying systems that forwards traffic to the selected destination (the data plane).
The irony of SDN is that in many ways, networking has always been defined by software. Software is pervasive within all of the technology that impacts our lives and networking is no different. Over the years, there have been challenges with network software, specifically around the requirement that a network device is typically configured individually and in most cases, manually. Networks can have a hard time trying to keep pace with the on-the-fly changes required by modern cloud systems. Big companies like Amazon or Google dedicate armies of engineers to their cloud systems and some have gone so far as to build their own customized network software and switches to accommodate their needs. However, this is not a reasonable solution for most companies as they build out their private cloud. Where virtualization and the cloud have revolutionized computing and storage, in some instances, the network has lagged behind.
Many of our clients are seeking solutions to their networking challenges. They want their networks to adjust and respond dynamically, based on their business policy. They want those policies to be automated so that they can reduce the manual work and personnel cost of running their networks. They want to quickly deploy and run new applications within and on top of their networks so that they can deliver business results, and they want to do this in a way that allows them to introduce these new capabilities without disrupting their business. These are huge challenges. However, I believe that SDN has the promise to deliver solutions to these challenges.
The Vendor Landscape
Cisco, HP and VMware each have a vision that includes a world of many clouds where applications and workloads can move in a seamless fashion across private, public, and, most importantly, hybrid clouds. This is indeed a grand vision, and may prove to be difficult to achieve, as the key ingredient will be API’s into the various public cloud vendors. Many of these cloud providers will have some aspect of having proprietary cloud architectures that could challenge the vision of a world of many clouds.
With that said, there are very fundamental differences between Cisco, HP and VMware on the SDN front. Philosophically, Cisco (by virtue of ACI), HP (by virtue of Virtual Application Networks) and VMware (by virtue of NSX) are all coming at this very differently. Cisco’s ACI blends both hardware and software with the promise of a policy driven infrastructure built around the needs of network applications. HP’s Virtual Application Networks incorporates the Open Network Foundation’s defined layers of the SDN architecture with a management layer that extends horizontally and vertically across infrastructure, control and applications. NSX has at its core virtual switch functionality (which can also function as a router and firewall when needed), using abstraction of the network and overlays. On many levels, this is shaping up to be very religious war. All three approaches will impact IT Operations and Management, and show evidence that SDN is real. The ultimate goal of each of the approaches is to provide IT Operations and Management teams with the ability to provide quickly deployed, reliable, and scalable application delivery for their organizations.
There is more on the horizon from other network providers. Dell recently announced a re-seller agreement with Cumulus Networks to deliver Linux-based, bare-metal networking to support a disaggregated networking model for their fixed-configuration switches. Other providers such as Juniper Networks, Arista, Extreme Networks, and many others have their own approaches to SDN and will certainly be disrupters as SDN technologies and visions continue to mature.
Why is MCPc well positioned to support SDN [shameless self promotion]?
I am writing this blog post because this is a topic that has been top of mind for me for quite some time. Our engineers at MCPc are well positioned to lead our clients on their journey to SDN. With our strong data center, network, consulting and managed service teams, we have the knowledge and experience to implement these emerging technologies as they mature. Given our Gold Partner designation with Cisco, our Platinum Status designation with HP, and our Premier Partner designation with VMware, we have achieved the highest level of accreditation and certifications available in the industry. We have invested heavily in our team of consultants, solution architects and engineers across the country to be able to support game changing technologies that support our clients and help them drive innovation and operational excellence for their businesses.
SDN is major shift in the networking and security industries. As the concepts behind SDN mature, the opportunity for its impact will extend far beyond the data center and as a result, the impact could actually be more far reaching than many predict today. One thing is for sure, SDN will create new winners and losers. There will be new companies who emerge and become successful, and we will witness some incumbents unsuccessfully struggle to transition. But like any major industry trend, the customer benefit will be real, although, I believe the adoption of SDN will be slow for many of our clients, and will play out over the next 2-4 years.