Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Realizing the Promise of SDN

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emc_abhijit-potnisAs the small to large organizations or the enterprise community moves towards their quest to do more with less, Software-Defined Networking or SDN is fast emerging as a great promise that can take the enterprise towards their goal of achieving more with less.

SDN is a concept that proposes to disaggregate the traditional vertically integrated networking ecosystem in order to improve network flexibility and manageability. SDN concepts propose to enable “mass customization” of network operations and better support differentiated cloud services.
Software-Defined Networking comprises a group of technologies that open the data, control, and management planes of the network to participate more easily in broader orchestration frameworks through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). These APIs also facilitate the development of a rich new set of network applications and services from a wider range of sources, including independent developers, Value-Added Resellers (VARs), and user organizations themselves.

SDN Vendor Ecosystem
The concepts of SDN are moving ahead with global IT and networking majors such as Brocade, Cisco, VMware, Oracle, Dell and Microsoft positioning their wares in front of the enterprise community to provide a direction towards embracing SDN within their IT infrastructure.
When it comes to transforming the IT fabric of an enterprise, the Software-defined networks and the physical network infrastructure their traffic traverses have a deeply symbiotic relationship. The architecture of the physical network infrastructure significantly affects latency, resilience, and overall performance.
SDNs will be far more flexible than traditional device-centric networking, but the new options they will provide and the new operational paradigm will bring about complexity of a different sort in the near term. Improving architectural simplicity, automation, and resilience in the underlying physical network will, in fact, improve the performance and operational feasibility of SDNs.

Genesis of SDN
As far as the genesis of SDN concerned, it is all about when Virtual Local-Area Networks (VLANs) were invented in the 1980s in order to extend the physical reach and scale of Ethernet networks of the time, and to allow users or hosts to be brought together into logical groups less constrained by physical location.
But it is important to note that server virtualization has exposed several limitations of traditional VLANs. Server virtualization is I/O-intensive, but Layer 2 domains are limited to 4,000 VLANs. In addition, VLAN traffic cannot cross Layer 2 boundaries, which constrains Virtual Machine (VM) mobility. Finally, modern cloud providers have multi-tenancy isolation requirements that are much more granular than can be supported with VLANs.
Fully virtualizing networks by creating overlay tunnels is one means around many of these limitations. More meaningfully, these modern tunneling techniques have been designed specifically to meet the requirements of data centers with dense server virtualization and cloud architectures.
This concept allow administrators to create logical overlay networks, linking or grouping virtual compute and storage resources as needed to rapidly deliver a desired IT service. Workload-specific policies are automatically applied as part of the tunnel setup. This work can be conducted without interfering with the functioning of the physical network, reducing overall deployment time and confining potential errors or disruptions to the logical service in question.

Network Virtualization and Ethernet Fabrics
At a time when network virtualization clearly solves a number of challenges for modern virtualized data centers, it does add complexity of a different sort. Both physical and overlay networks need to be managed concurrently, but at present have limited visibility of one another. In order to take full advantage of overlay networks, automation of basic tasks in the physical network therefore becomes critical.

Delivering Big Benefits
SDN has a great set of benefits for the enterprise community and owing to its Efficient, reliable delivery of tunneled traffic, it is fast moving in the right direction of adoptions within the enterprise. Network virtualization expands the scope and flexibility of virtual I/O aggregation by policy, but traffic still relies on the performance, resilience, and services of the physical infrastructure it traverses.
As more and more organizations are deploying overlay tunnels, they should expect that their network infrastructure providers will be able to enable tunnel visibility as the tunnel protocols themselves mature. This is set to derive new dimensions to SDN capabilities for the enterprise.

SDN as a Control center
Within the SDN ecosystem, the abstracted control plane functions as the “services layer” of an SDN stacks, where new or more personalized network functionality and services are defined and managed.
It is important to understand what the control plane options are, as control plane choices must be informed by an IT organization’s philosophy about sourcing and strategic vendors. Broadly speaking, control plane options are either hypervisor vendor-centric, or some form of Open Source and/or OpenFlow-based controller, including the OpenDaylight Project. OpenFlow does not specify any particular tunneling mechanism; instead, it provides extensions for developing to any desired tunneling protocol.

SDN and OpenFlow
Driving a new generation of capability to deliver choice at the hands of IT managers and CIOs, OpenFlow is an open, standards-based communications protocol and an example of device-based SDN. OpenFlow provides access to the forwarding plane of a network switch or router over the network, facilitating more sophisticated traffic management, especially for virtualized and cloud environments. The OpenFlow protocol is standardized and managed by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), whose mission also includes the promotion of SDN technologies as a whole.
In a traditional router or switch, the data plane and the control plane reside on the device. OpenFlow enables part of control plane operations to run on external servers called controllers. In practice, an OpenFlow API is generally a feature added to commercial network devices, whose hardware architecture and features remain crucial to network performance.
The standard control plane of the device remains in place and performs traditional routing or switching. Today, most OpenFlow-enabled devices can also support both OpenFlow traffic and non-OpenFlow traffic, with mechanisms for determining to which pipeline each traffic flow should be routed.
The real benefit of OpenFlow lies in the applications that it can enable. New forms of traditional control plane applications such as security or specialized QoS functions—and even entirely new applications—may be written to these controllers.
This will enable cloud and hosting providers, in particular, to develop and market more truly differentiated services to their clients. Traditional enterprises can also benefit from this type of third-party network application development, for example, in developing capabilities that help meet the operational or regulatory requirements of their industry verticals.

Use Cases for SDN
SDN will enable a wide variety of use cases as the technologies mature. In the near term, these are some of the most commonly envisioned scenarios:

Service Delivery with WAN
Public cloud providers may wish to ensure their SLAs by maintaining visibility and control of traffic all the way to the client’s network edge. This can be achieved by deploying OpenFlow-enabled devices both at the cloud provider edge and client ingress, with both devices communicating to the cloud provider OpenFlow controllers. OpenFlow can also help provide granular control of inter-data center traffic, including backup or disaster recovery operations.
The ability to develop new features quickly for highly specialized use cases is appealing to many, particularly in the cloud and hosting space, as it can provide opportunities for timely service differentiation and incremental monetization of the network. Such use cases might take the form of new security offerings, service levels, or bandwidth on demand.
By defining within the controller a set of policies that can be applied to any number of flows at need, the operator is able to truly divorce the service delivered to the client from the physical locations of the infrastructure supporting it.
This unique capability provides a pragmatic path to SDN by providing network operators with the ability to integrate OpenFlow into existing networks. It also gives them the programmatic control offered by SDN for specific flows, while the remaining traffic is routed as before. In addition, Hybrid Port Mode provides efficient utilization of existing uplinks for SDN by eliminating the need for separate SDN-enabled uplink ports. Brocade Hybrid Port Mode also supports an optional “VLAN protection” feature in hardware, which enables initial OpenFlow overlay service development without risk to the production network.

Managing SDN
While we speak about management of SDN, it becomes important to understand that the abstraction and programmability of the management layer of the network is critical to enable cloud orchestration applications to manage, end-to-end, all the infrastructure elements of the cloud-—compute, storage, and network—for more rapid application delivery.

SDN, the Way Ahead
In rethinking the traditional architectural paradigm of physical network tiers of discrete devices, SDN is fast moving ahead with its clear benefits of associating with software driven approach to design and orchestrate networks, moving ahead, better concepts around Fibre Channel fabrics, provide the necessary physical foundation for the next-stage of network evolution for the enterprise and SDN will be at the helm of all.
As more and more enterprise customers look at increasing the reliability of their network infrastructure, decoupling and opening up the data, control, and management planes across multiple product lines – it is set to inculcate more of SDN approaches in to their IT infrastructure. And an open ended embrace of Open Source based Software-Defined Networking—will ensure a customizable, organically responsive, highly resilient network that can participate naturally in modern virtualized environments.

“SDN market is in early stages of adoption in India”

In an interview with Abhijit  Potnis, Director Technology Solutions – India and SAARC at EMC about the opportunity in SDN market today. Excerpts of the interview:

What is your SDN strategy today? How important is Indian market when it comes to SDN deployments?
EMC has a unique federation model of operation that includes EMC Information Infrastructure (EMCii), VMware and Pivotal which allows EMC to offer solutions and choice to its customer for the software-defined enterprise and the emerging “3rd platform” of mobile, cloud, big data and social, transformed by billions of users and millions of apps. As part of the federation, EMC and VMware have a joint vision to deliver innovative solutions and services enabling businesses and service providers to build a Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC), transform their operations and deliver IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS).  Fundamental to this transformation is virtualization and cloud computing, delivering maximum IT efficiency and agility. India is an important market for us. However, we see the SDN adoption at very nascent stage here.

What are some of the key market verticals for SDN today?
SDN solutions are poised for quick adoption across various verticals; few of them are:
BFSI: With the onset of banking going online, this vertical relies on its network infrastructure for its day-to-day business activities. A lot of money is spent on managing the globally dispersed assets. SDN solutions lower down the cost associated with the network infrastructure and also help in controlling the entire network from a single interface and cater in allocating the bandwidth for high-priority applications.
Educational Institutions: Educational institution campuses are increasingly adopting latest technologies and are opting more for Wi-Fi-enabled campuses and much more. All these need network infrastructure to be set up. Thus, SDN solutions will be much needed by educational institutions as well.
Government: Government institutions in developing as well as in developed countries are trying to connect all the agencies interlinked in one network. Governments usually have budget constraints, so they look for solutions to reduce the expenditure and easy management of their networks. SDN provides a promising solution for the government’s requirements.
Telecom and IT Industries: Telecom and IT industries are the most network-intensive industries. Telecom operators are always looking for innovations to optimize their network to deliver maximum efficiency and offer new services to cater to next generation applications (3rd platform applications) which rely heavily on cloud based infrastructures. SDN solution swill help Telecom and IT organizations by avoiding traditional network bottle-necks and increasing flexibility and programmability of their network.

What are some of the market needs that are being met by SDN?
There has been lots of talk about how software-defined networking (SDN) will change the face of networking, including reasons for adoption and the unique opportunity made available for the channel to expand its business and improve customer retention. In light of those discussions, here are some of the market needs that are being met by SDN: .Operational Savings: SDNs lower operating expenses.   Network services can be packaged for application owners, freeing up the networking team. Flexibility: SDNs create flexibility in how the network can be used and operated.  Improved Uptime: By eliminating manual intervention, SDNs enable resellers to reduce configuration and deployment errors that can impact the network. Better Management: Managed Service Providers (MSPs) can use a single viewpoint and toolset to manage virtual networking, computing and storage resources. Planning: Better visibility into network, computing, and storage resources means resellers can also plan IT strategies more effectively for their customers.  Infrastructure Savings: Separating route/switching intelligence from packet forwarding reduces hardware prices as routers and switches must compete on price-performance features.

What are the challenges that could hinder the growth of SDN in India?
As enterprises mature beyond basic virtualization and look towards private cloud deployments, SDN deployments will be a must have as it simplifies operations by automating and centralizing network management tasks. However, SDN is yet to mature in Indian markets. Some of the challenges that we see can hinder the growth are lack of awareness among CIO community in adoption and implementation and lack of trained professionals to implement the technology

What kind of growth are you looking at for driving SDN in India?
According to IDC, the worldwide enterprise SDN market is expected to grow from USD 360 million in 2013 to a robust USD 3.7 billion by 2016.  The servers, storage, and networking equipment market in India, is forecasted to grow to Rs.15, 300 crore by 2016, according to Gartner.  Software-Defined Networking is set to grab a share of this networking budget.

Where are the major SDN deployments happening in India?
SDN market is in early stages of adoption in India and we are currently seeing customer deploying in test environment

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