SDN 101: Why SDN?

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Let's kick off the New Year with a monthly series of blogs on Software-defined Networking (SDN). The series will take you through all aspects of SDN components and its use cases.

I think it's fair to ask why we need to know about SDN in the first place.  According to a new forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC), the worldwide SDN market for the enterprise and cloud service provider segments will grow from $960 million in 2014 to over $8 billion by 2018, representing a robust CAGR of 89.4%.[1] Also, Infonetics Research, a division of IHS Inc., surveyed 153 medium and large U.S. businesses and found that nearly 80% plan to implement SDN in the data center in the next two years. More than 60% said they will conduct or launch SDN lab trials by the end of 2015. So the growth and size of the market are huge.

Aside from the market prospect why do you think the SDN technology is becoming more prevalent in today's digital era?

"It probably took less than 15 minutes, and we had our entire district up and running for just a fraction of the cost of what that same type of security solution would have cost years ago," Jeff Dietsche, Systems and Infrastructure Manager for the South Washington County Schools in Minnesota, said in an interview about why they implemented SDN. [2] He was faced with exponential growth in mobility and an increasingly digital curriculum as well as security challenges and wanted to tackle the problem with minimal resources.

 Jeff's problem is not unique. In fact, it's what most enterprises are facing today with the pervasiveness of cloud applications and mobility. Computing has advanced rapidly in the past 40 years with server virtualization allowing applications that used to take weeks to provision on physical machines to be up and running in minutes. However, the underlying network that connects all of these servers has remained virtually unchanged turning into a bottleneck for application delivery.

As organizations move to cloud and mobility, manual configuration of the network through command line interface, coding has been error-prone, as well as time and resource intensive.

Have you thought about how long it would take to provision a new application on the network? Just imagine a typical cloud data center that may require 10,000 provisions per day, each requiring at least 20 network command line changes. These 200,000 command line changes would require 3,333 man hours to complete assuming one minute per command which translates to 420 network admins needed to complete these in an 8-hour workday!

Other than this time-consuming task, network operators and admins can't customize and optimize networks for their use cases and can't offer customized solutions with current closed and proprietary networking solutions.  For example, in the case of South Washington County, Jeff wanted to secure the network with more flexible solutions rather than hardware devices that needed to be deployed at every single switch. With the SDN solution, he was able to achieve the automation and security that he needed at a fraction of cost.

Want to know more about SDN? In the next blog, I'll talk about the basics of Software-defined Networking.

[1]  IDC