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A software solution to mitigate the microchip crisis?

Today’s software-defined network tech is able to optimise traditional network architectures and existing hardware resources to offer secure interoperability.
Read time 4min 30sec

The writing has been on the wall since early 2021. Vital semiconductors and microchips, representing the brains and beating hearts of all computer systems, are in short supply.

While demand for chips of all sizes and capacities has risen exponentially for some time, the last 12 months has seen demand exceed supply by multiple factors for the first time.

The crisis, on a global scale, may well continue until 2023 and beyond, according to industry watchers.

It all began with the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent consumers hurrying to purchase laptops, phones and other electronic equipment as lockdowns saw work-from-home and home-schooling scenarios become commonplace around the world.

The pandemic also disrupted the supply chains that would keep chip production plants operating and producing at normal rates. This has impacted everything in the corporate environment, from high-end data centre deployments to photocopy machine sales.

The buying frenzy and supply chain issues have aligned like a planetary conjunction to present many organisations with insurmountable difficulties in terms of sourcing the hardware – particularly routers and servers − they need to function effectively.

They are thus facing a choice: either call a halt to planned maintenance, upgrade and expansion projects, or search for an alternative solution.

One way for organisations to mitigate the effects of the chip shortage is to independently move their critical data centre operations and urgent workloads to the cloud. However, there are risks associated with using resources and sharing sensitive data over the internet.

An alternative – and more immediate − approach is to adopt a software solution to address the hardware shortage.

In the face of the global chip shortage, SDN solutions have come into their own.

The crisis has resulted in a re-examination of software-defined networks (SDNs) which have been given a “technology twist” – sometimes under a proprietary brand banner − to meet today’s exacting corporate requirements.

An SDN is a virtualised, distributed network designed to connect all nodes securely and optimally, regardless of their physical location or the network’s configuration.

The principles of an SDN were first applied in public switched telephone networks well before this architecture appeared in data networks. However, as networks have evolved and become more diverse with workloads moving to the edge, SDN technology has also advanced to keep pace with change.

And now, in the face of the global chip shortage, SDN solutions have come into their own. The innovative technology underpinning modern SDN architectures incorporates faster protocols, better routing and self-optimising functions together with cloud management features to effectively merge important security and networking aspects into a simple “single layer” network that does not require any (chip-reliant) hardware deployments.

How does this work?

While an SDN is capable of changing generic network architectures, today’s SDN technology is able to optimise traditional network architectures and existing hardware resources − which may even rely on older semiconductor technology − to offer secure, zero-trust interoperability.

For example, the latest SDNs are able to secure internet traffic (bearing in mind that the internet was never designed with security in mind) while connecting any device to any device at speeds which are now substantially faster than ever before.

The modern SDN does not require data traffic to be backhauled or forced to route sub-optimally as is the case with hardware-oriented solutions that rely on centralised gateways.

Apart from a simplified management process, new-generation SDNs also enhance security via end-to-end encryption and built-in segmentation underpinned by true zero-trust functionality. There are no connections on the network and no ports are open on any individual device; in this way, the network’s attack surface is reduced to virtually zero.

To establish a network connection, the new-generation SDN applies an identity-based routing algorithm to locate the destination node. This “flattens” the network by abstracting each node’s identity from its physical location and network properties.

Then, the technology applies ‘zero touch’ machine learning to determine the optimal path between any two nodes, providing superior performance compared to many competing solutions.

Finally, because SDNs are designed to support any mode of communication via a unified, web-based control plane, organisations have the ability – and agility − to move users or services among different locations, or in and out of the cloud. The network will automatically adjust to provide optimal connectivity regardless of the node locations or network properties.

In this light, should an organisation wish to move its operations to the cloud, contemporary SDN technology will support the step using existing hardware. Advanced encryption, networking protocols and routing are built into the SDN to seamlessly secure it and accelerate access to cloud resources.

In today’s customer-oriented, digitised society it is increasingly appreciated that modernisation, innovation and development are the keys to success. These values have assumed added importance as the chip shortage has loomed large.

It is perhaps appropriate that a new take on a proven software solution has stepped up to assist organisations to face future productivity challenges with confidence.

Paul Stuttard

Director, Duxbury Networking.

Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.

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