Software defined networking will boost business intelligence

by Darinia Khongwir    Mar 04, 2013

Software defined networking (SDN) is getting a lot of talk lately because it is said to be one of the game changers in the area of networking and virtualization. While vendors are giving it a nod, enterprises are still hesitant to adopt it owing to legacy architecture and ROI. But the big guns in the industry like Cisco, Juniper and VMWare are very gung ho about the new technology and have set up architecture that is aligned to SDN, if not fully compliant.

Telecommunication providers have been looking for ways to optimize costs and increase network efficiency over the last decade. At the same time, the industry is also witnessing a huge push for newer forms of networking that are faster, simpler and easier to manage. In this aspect, SDN has grown into the main technology to address this trend. According to market research company Markets & Markets (M&M), SDN is a first of its kind networking concept that has picked up significant market traction over the last year. The technology directly helps communication providers to redirect network traffic and ease network congestion; ultimately resulting in significant cost savings that can be redirected to drive core business goals. While the SDN and network virtualization market currently stands at a nascent stage, industry consolidation is set to happen in the near future, driving better adoption with concentrated messaging among enterprises.

M&M projections reveal that the global SDN market is estimated to grow from $198 million in 2012 to $2.10 billion in 2017 and North America continues to be the biggest market for SDN solutions.

Garnering interest for SDN
In Indian IT enterprises too, they are seeing a huge potential for SDN, even if the adoption is a tad slow. As the name suggests SDN is networking that is being controlled by software intelligence. And the reason we are talking about SDN is because the network equipment that we call the monolithic equipment—the hardware and the software go hand-in-hand as an appliance in a very controlled environment that is not open for innovation.

“Each vendor has their own networking operating system and they have set of features and applications that are running in that network system. It is very different from other technologies, like say server, for example. The server technology has largely one or two operating systems, which can Windows or UNIX. We are not really concerned who the hardware vendor is – Dell, IBM or HP. It is largely the operating system that drives it. The network for every vendor has its own operating systems and features. This is one of the problem that software defined networking is trying to solve. Just the like operating system has opened up for application developers, why can’t the network operating system also be open for application developers? Thereby, application developers can build software that will directly interact with the network. That is what we are trying to do through SDN,” said Sajan Paul, Director, systems Engineering, Juniper Networks.

Customers globally and in India are in a wait and watch mode and are getting educated and familiarized with the concept. There is considerable confusion around what SDN is, its monetization and market sizing. SDN is an abstraction layer where application developers can directly interact with the network operating system on a standard way. Today, there is no such mechanism available. That is the first thing that SDN would try to solve.

“At Cisco, we believe that a more pragmatic view needs to prevail, before an accurate market sizing number can be projected. Also, one should take into consideration both product and services revenue opportunity. On the business front, its early days, and most customers are still exploring. A few may look at making a multi-year transition and in a phased manner which will open up new opportunities for the few top-tier partners and ISVs, as several proof-of-concepts get fleshed out,” said Mahesh Gupta, Vice President for Borderless Networks at Cisco India and SAARC, on the adoption of SDN in India.

SDN to boost Business Intelligence
A lot of SDN discussions do not really get in the service provider business. If we look at the SDN stories, they are largely focussed on data centers. They are looking at a couple of main areas – How can I do a centralised management of data center? And how can I collect intelligence from the network so that my business applications can be used with diligence to move data. For example big data analytics – once you have intelligence out of big data, you ask: ‘Can I use the intelligence to influence the network or reprogram my network’?

“Juniper is looking at addressing the issue of – with such a huge amount of data, how can we help make sense of it? In fact, our hardware architecture is SDN-ready. What we are doing is a concept called service training for the service providers. When a subscriber buys a service, his entire service chaining can done using a centralized controller. The services could be a mobile, broadband, IT transformation or content sharing service. A SDN architecture can simply manage those and create a service chain in a matter of minutes compared the hours and days in the service provider domain today,” averred Paul.

According to Paul, Juniper already has architecture that SDN-friendly. “We can distil the layers down to at least four—management plane, control plane, services plane and forwarding plane. SDN’s priority is take the first two management plane and control plane, and allow application developers to interact with it,” he said.

Cisco’s approach has seen a strong interest in customers, many of whom are eagerly signing up for early field trials. In addition to technology innovation, Cisco’s strategic roadmap around SDN will also look at educating the workforce to come up to speed on these emerging concepts. “The company will also continue to invest in and bring synergy across both hardware and software, drive consistency between physical and virtual and blur the boundaries across network and compute,” said Gupta.

SDN to change the face of virtualization?
One of the problems of SDN is increasing the virtualization and orchestration. Virtualization is a good problem to have and that the adoption of virtual servers is much more than hardware servers. Many organisations are in various stages of moving even critical applications to a virtual environment.

But Paul said that today, the challenge is virtual servers work in an island. The server is not a complete solution. You need applications, network and storage. All of them put together is one unit. So, how do we orchestrate that based on business intelligence?

“For example, I am a retail operator, I have 100 virtual machines and it is the Diwali season. During this season, my business will be three times more than my current download. Can I have business intelligence software or big data analytics tell me that there is going to be a 3X load? Therefore, I am going to multiply my number of virtual machines by three and similarly increase my network bandwidth and roll it out into a network. So, it is a closed loop—if some software identifies a holiday season, business volume and interacts with the network and virtual machines and executes it in an increased capacity. In a virtualized environment, SDN is going to tremendously help linking the business intelligence into the compute,” said Paul.

SDN to solve IT enterprise security issues
A bulk of the community, when they think of security, they immediately think of firewall, intrusion prevention system and anti-virus. But seldom people think that security is beyond the hardware elements. Security is all about your business intelligence.

“What SDN will allow is a coordinated threat activity. If you have 100 locations where your operations are, an SDN layer can abstract the security vulnerabilities in various layers and distribute those vulnerabilities and database to the 100 locations simultaneously. Therefore, even if an attack is detected on one site, immediately, you can plug the threats across the 100 sites. Today, we can’t do it because it is separately managed and there is no coordination between the layers. SDN will see coordination of threat and there will be a better utilization of security infrastructure,” countered Paul.

Still a hype cycle
As discussed earlier, SDN is still in its nascent stage here. And like any new technology, it is a hype cycle. So, it will be a matter of time where people will get familiar with this concept. And in time, there will be more affordable solutions for the general public.

“In fact, it will ease a lot of things. Today, if you to manage 100 different hardware separately, you will also manage one SDN controller. And all the hardware is controlled by the controller. So, it is going to reduce Operational Expenditure (OPEX) expenses to a fraction, if not in the CAPEX reduction. so, there will be an every day challenge. But as this solution gets matured, more organisations will adopt it if not for anything else but to save on OPEX and agility,” said Paul.