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What is SDN and why is it becoming so important?

Software-defined networking is a phrase that has been popping up with increasing regularity, says Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of Phoenix Distribution.


Johannesburg, 20 Nov 2014
Read time 3min 30sec

Software-defined networking (SDN) is a phrase that has been popping up with increasing regularity, says Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of Phoenix Distribution, South African distributor and supplier of many brand-name software and accessories. But what exactly is it and why is it such a big deal for both the channel and the enterprise?

"In simple terms, it is a relatively new way of designing, maintaining and operating information technology (IT) networks," says Campbell-Young. "The traditional network traffic is physically separated from a control plane (brains) to a forwarding plane (muscle), making it easier to optimise each, and with the control plane controlling several devices."

He explains further: "The infrastructure layer or data plane consists of network switches, routers, the data itself, as well as the process of forwarding the data to its destination. The control layer or plane is the intelligence of the devices, determining how the traffic should flow. Then there is the application layer or plane which consists of the network services, utilities and applications."

A description on techrepublic.com further breaks it down, explaining the purpose of SDN is to separate wired or wireless network traffic into three components: raw data, how the data is sent, and what purpose the data serves. And according to OpenNetworking, the goal is to give enterprises and carriers vendor-independent control over the entire network from a single logical point, thereby greatly simplifying the network design and operation in order to make the network more flexible and adaptable.

One thing that is clear, says Campbell-Young, is the purpose SDN, as a whole, serves, is of great importance. "According to a forecast made by IT, telecommunications and consumer technology research and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC), the SDN market for the enterprise and cloud service provider segments will grow more than eightfold, from $960 million this year to over $8 billion by 2018, thanks to a 'robust' compound annual growth rate of 89.4%. Major corporations are already embracing SDN in various ways, such as computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, which has just opened up its very own - and first of its kind - SDN app store," Campbell-Young says.

HP's open, enterprise-grade app shop, which opened its virtual doors on 1 October, and which is aptly named the SDN App Store, was reportedly brought to life in order to "give third-party developers the tools they need to develop and sell their SDN-enabled applications" ? as per a blog post on siliconangle.com. It will form part of HP's open SDN ecosystem, in which the company already offers its own SDN Developer Kit, which gives developers the necessary tools to create, test and validate SDN apps. The SDN App Store will now enable them to market and sell their innovations to customers worldwide via this centralised platform.

Earlier this year, search engine giant Google also shone the spotlight on SDN when it unveiled that it was using SDN-powered technology for its internal services, and code-named it "Andromeda". According to a Google blog post, it is the orchestration point for provisioning, configuring and managing virtual networks and in-network packet processing. All Google's Cloud Platform networking tools and services are based on this network virtualising stack, because, as Techrepublic explains "it allows the search engine to create end-to-end solutions without compromising functionality based on available insertion points or existing software".

"Apart from the additional functionality, such as increased bandwidth requirements and better traffic management it will add to your company's network, SDN holds another major appeal," says Campbell-Young. "Since its standards are open, your enterprise is not beholden to or dependent on any one vendor, and open source SDN application program interfaces (APIs) can be written by networking staff to increase capabilities as needed."

Phoenix Software

Phoenix Distribution is currently the leading broad based distributors on the African continent, covering software publishing, localisation and distribution across multiple territories in multiple languages. The business is segmented into two divisions, namely Corporate Licensing and Retail. The Corporate Licensing division sells volume licensing into the enterprise and SMB reseller environments. This division also covers architecture and implementation. http://www.phoenixdistribution.co.za/.

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