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Put mutually-beneficial SDN, network virtualisation to work

Embracing the ethos behind the symbiotic bond between software-defined networking and network virtualisation provides a competitive advantage.
Paul Stuttard
By Paul Stuttard, Director, Duxbury Networking.
Johannesburg, 05 Oct 2023
Paul Stuttard, director, Duxbury Networking.
Paul Stuttard, director, Duxbury Networking.

Software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualisation (NV) technologies are redefining how today’s increasingly complex corporate networks are managed and operated.

SDN − which represents a substantial step forward from traditional networking − separates the network control plane from the data plane, allowing for centralised management and control of network resources. This flexibility enables dynamic network configuration, improved security and easier implementation of network policies.

NV decouples network services from the underlying hardware, enabling virtual network deployment across an entire network. This allows organisations to integrate many physical networks into a single virtual, software-based network.

It can also create distinct, independent virtual networks on a single physical network, with each virtual network connected by a “virtual tunnel” through the physical network. This eliminates the need to wire every new domain connection separately.

In addition, NV supports and enhances SDN technology by abstracting physical network hardware and creating virtual networks that can be easily provisioned and managed.

As the technologies continue to evolve, they will integrate more closely with cloud and edge computing.

According to KnowledgeNile, an emerging global technology-focused organisation, NV is altering the rules for the delivery of network services. “It does so from the software-defined data centre to the cloud and all the way to the [network] periphery,” it notes. “This method transforms networks from rigid and inefficient to dynamic and agile.”

While SDN and NV may differ in terms of the separation of functions and resources, they are complementary and bound by a strong symbiotic relationship, with NV providing many of the actual services managed in an SDN.

KnowledgeNile says the fundamental commonality between SDN and NV is the usage of network abstraction.

“SDN attempts to isolate network control operations from network forwarding services. In contrast, NV attempts to abstract network forwarding and other networking functions from the hardware on which they execute.

“As a result, both rely on virtualisation to abstract network architecture and infrastructure in software. This is also subsequently implemented by underlying software across hardware platforms and devices.”

With the principle of virtualisation driving their development and deployment, SDN and NV are together able to promote flexibility, agility, scalability and cost-efficiency with regard to the management of multifaceted corporate networks.

As the technologies continue to evolve, they will integrate more closely with cloud and edge computing. For example, SDN and NV are increasingly able to manage and optimise network resources at the edge. This is crucial for supporting low-latency applications and internet of things devices. This will be key in the ever-more-complex multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud environments of the near future.

An increased focus on SDN technology has been prompted by the rollout of 5G networks. Because SDN enables a new way of controlling the routing of data packets through a centralised server, SDN technology can assist with the management of the dynamic nature of 5G networks.

This is achieved by enabling centralised control of network resources, a key essential for delivering the low-latency, high-bandwidth services that 5G promises.

In the context of 5G, network slicing is a critical concept in modern telecommunications networks. It involves creating multiple virtual networks within a single physical network infrastructure, each tailored to specific use cases or services, all running on a shared physical infrastructure.

Going forward, SDN and NV will continue to play key roles in the implementation of network slicing technology and in the efficient management of network slices, which are important enablers for the flexibility and scalability of modern telecommunications networks.

Security is, as always, of critical concern in networking. Because SDN and NV offer more granular control over network traffic − together with visibility into the entire network – they provide a more holistic view of security threats. This simplifies the implementation of security policies, improves threat detection and shortens response times.

Moreover, SDN and NV boast features such as micro-segmentation, which improves network security by isolating workloads from each other. Operators can thus create separate zones for devices that require different levels of security, or immediately quarantine compromised devices.

Against this backdrop, automation, as it applies to SDN and NV, has become more advanced, allowing network administrators to automate an increasing number of routine tasks, such as provisioning and scaling, using a range of tools. This contributes to an improvement in efficiency and reduces the chances of configuration errors.

With the growing adoption of powerful transformative containerisation technologies, such as Kubernetes, there's an increasing need for SDN solutions tailored to containerised workloads. Container orchestration platforms often integrate with SDN for managing networking within clusters and are central to modern cloud-native networking and application deployment.

Closely allied to SDN and NV is intent-based networking (IBN), a concept that employs SDN principles to allow network administrators to specify what they want the network to achieve (intent), permitting the network to automatically configure itself to meet those goals. IBN aims to simplify network management and reduce human error.

There is little doubt that by embracing the ethos behind the symbiotic relationship between SDN and NV technologies, users will be able to optimise the various solutions on offer and put their organisations at a competitive advantage.