Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Practical Look at SDN Software and Hardware Considerations

The Opportunity for SDN
Software Defined Networking represents the biggest change to the network in many years. What makes SDN interesting is the transformation that it can enable. Businesses are looking for more control over their applications on the network. SDN promises to deliver agility and simplification in the network to support applications. With SDN, the network becomes more efficient and agile, and an enabler for delivering on business goals for application performance. As a buyer, it’s understandably difficult to separate the hype from the reality. I’d like to suggest a few points to consider as you map out your SDN strategy.

Implications for the Network
Network operators still need to design, provision, manage, operate and troubleshoot their network. While SDN offers greater simplicity, operators have to continue current network management functions and, at the same time, become educated on  SDN developments. With SDN, new protocols and technologies will emerge. The investments you make in your network infrastructure today need to be flexible enough to see you through the next several years. There will be a hybrid model in the network. This means a mix of overlay technology and physical networks – and the demarcation points will depend on use cases for those overlays and the ability for the physical network to support these overlays. Network operators will have to understand the relationship between the two and be able to design networks appropriately with the right on-ramps and off-ramps. As the management of network shifts away from CLI and more towards orchestration platforms, the network interfaces and integration points (APIs) need to be clearly defined and deliver automation and agility.

The Buyer’s Journey
If you are building an SDN now, or planning a future implementation, you don’t need to hold off your network investments today for fear of protecting those investments down the road. Nobody wants to rip and replace their network. For a successful implementation, there are three key factors to consider: investing in the right architecture, open interfaces, and flexible programmability.

Invest in the Architecture
The network buying decisions that you make today are driven by specific projects such as adding scale and capacity, building new applications and services, bringing new facilities online, retiring end-of-life equipment, and network consolidation. You should base your decision on differentiated network architectures that deliver the features and capabilities you are looking for with an added focus towards simplicity of management – nobody wants to deal with a network that’s difficult to install and use. This will reduce OpEx for managing the physical network while delivering the key features and application performance that’s reliable and predictable. As you move forward in your SDN implementation, you will still maintain the benefits of OpEx reduction, and also have a network architecture that’s easier to integrate with SDN controllers and troubleshoot.

Open Systems and Standard Interfaces
Never compromise your network. You should be able to build and grow in it ways that support your business goals.  There might be characteristics that were delivered by your network architecture that you want to build upon. Look for products that are enabling things like open interfaces, device interoperability, and support for protocols and management tools that will enable you to grow as you need to. This might mean supporting the OpenFlow protocol, or the VXLAN protocol, or integration with VMware vCenter and vCloud Director or integration with OpenStack and CloudStack and IT automation tools such as Puppet and Chef. For more on what Juniper is doing with Openstack see this blog, Agility for the Cloud with Juniper and OpenStack and for more on Puppet see, Workflow Automation with Puppet for Junos OS.

Flexible Programmability
As new protocols, features, and orchestration systems continue to emerge, you should not have to rip and replace the hardware investments that you make today. Your network vendor should have capabilities that allow for flexible programmability – giving your network devices the ability to support today and tomorrow’s new features and protocols. For example, programmable ASICs at the core of the network can enable SDN-customers to customize their network for their needs as SDN evolves. Superior performance, the ability to scale, and power efficiencies are extremely important – particularly in certain parts of the network, such as the data center and campus core. Programmable ASICs can provide these improvements over general purpose ASICs today. Flexible programmability is important to protect your investment and reduce CapEX as new SDN protocols, and encapsulation technologies come along. Juniper announced the EX9200 programmable switch recently, see the news here,Juniper Networks Unveils the World's Most Programmable Core Switch to Support Emerging Applications and Growing Workloads..

Service Chaining and Performance Management
There are two other major areas of consideration in the SDN space, which are service chaining and performance management. In networks today many services are being virtualized. These might be security services or network services. They often run on VMs in x86 servers. Organizations need a way to direct application traffic to the required services. Juniper has a solution for this. How it is done is explained by Bob Muglia in his blog Decoding SDN.

The other area of interest is network and application performance. Juniper has a solution called Junos Network Analytics that provides tools that leverage Big Data technologies to analyze extracted network flow data and routing tables from Juniper Networks routing platforms or other third-party vendor routing platforms. This solution leverages a powerful analytics engine and user-friendly dashboard to provide meaningful business intelligence on network performance that can be used by business decision makers and network planners and architects to benefit application performace. More about this can be found on the Junos Network Analytics page.

Know Your SDN Destination
Juniper has a holistic strategy on SDN. We lay out the basics and provide a clear pathway for understanding SDN and the impact it can have on your network and business. Every customer is different, with unique problems to solve. Is SDN the best approach for you? Are there certain things I can do today to achieve the same benefits? For more information on SDN buying decisions read our info graphic/whitepaper “We Believe It’s Time for Some Straight Talk” (on SDN) or visit the Software Defined Networking page.

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