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The concept of Software Defined Networking (SDN) has attracted a lot of attention over the past several years. First, because of its promise to deliver a more agile and programmable network infrastructure. And second, because of its ability to support network virtualization. Most analysts agree SDN has been confined largely to the data center (cloud service and telecom space) because the technology tends to consolidate network configurations and management, which can limit control and visibility.

However, the launch of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) technology is reinvigorating the conversation around SDN in supporting virtual networking and as a result, it is opening up the technology to the enterprise. This breakthrough protocol extends the technology access through APIs. In a nutshell, this approach puts intelligence in all of the network devices using an Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), thus moving away from legacy multi-protocol dependency.

According to InfoWorld, Cisco’s new operations control protocol called OpFlex (replaces OpenFlow) opens up SDN to large-scale deployments and distributes control of the configuration to the network. Essentially, that means the infrastructure and protocol decentralizes network control and give admins the ability to adjust settings based on application requirements. (Source: InfoWorld). This ACI model is chosen generally because it is simple and geared for speed. Not only that, it is scalable and it’s interoperable.

Who cares about application-level policies?

Why is this shift important, anyway? The ACI model is considered a disruptive change because of the nature of today’s enterprises and data centers. In both network environments, there is generally a mixed bag of network equipment. That could include various network services, virtual switches, routing equipment, etc. The ACI approach is moving towards an open-source protocol that vendors can embed into devices and software so it can take be controlled from an APIC-enabled box. Users can create full automation of all virtual and physical network parameters through a single API. Now, that’s flexibility!

Open SDN vs. private SDN?

Today’s multi-vendor network environments have traditionally been tangled with interoperability issues. Whether it’s hardware-defined SDN (such as Cisco’s original OpenFlow protocol) or proprietary software used to manage these networks, supporting virtual networking through SDN has been a challenge. The OpenDaylight Project (ODL) is just one example of a leading open-source platform for programmable SDN that offers solutions to these barriers (Source: Silicon Angle). These open source platform options provide policy controls for multi-vendor environments and are spurring a tremendous growth potential in the industry. In fact, according to Infonetics Research, the SDN market is set to grow from $289 million in 2015 to $8.7 billion in 2020 (Source: Infonetics Research).

The need for next-generation networks

This growth is also being pushed because many experts believe SDN and network virtualization technologies are essential in creating next-generation networks. These networks have to be able to keep pace with the enterprise environment and data center infrastructures that are managing cloud, virtualization, and the digital workforce that is more mobile and widely dispersed than ever before. The network layer has become even more important in today’s enterprise. From the WAN to branch offices to the campus network, these next-gen networks are the foundation of leading enterprises. Together, they can deliver fast speeds, low latency, and high scalability.  To that end, enterprises looking to adopt public and private cloud services should consider the implications and benefits of SDN and network virtualization.

Brad Casemore, the Director of Research for Data Center Networking at IDC points out that software-defined networking− both open SDN and proprietary SDN solutions− have come a long way in redefining the network and will continue to do so as companies look to various application delivery options.

“While networking hardware will continue to hold a prominent place in network infrastructure, SDN is indicative of a long-term value migration from hardware to software in the networking industry. For vendors, this will portend a shift to software- and service-based business models, and for enterprise customers, it will mean a move toward a more collaborative approach to IT and a more business-oriented understanding of how the network enables application delivery,” said Casemore. (Source: IDC)