17 Sep 2014
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Alcatel Lucent assesses... the SDN approach

Alcatel-Lucent's Dinesh Divakar takes a look at why SDN is needed and its benefits for business.

Let’s start by defining the problem, which is, in a nutshell, that the massive growth in network usage and the increasing demand for excellence in performance is unsustainable, given existing technologies.

Big data is doubling every two years, there will be two billion smartphones in the world next year, the growth of machine-to-machine (M2M) networking... the list goes on.

Yet the classic fix of over-provisioning by just adding more boxes and bandwidth is expensive and only uses 10% of the network capacity.

The list of IT-based media applications continues to grow – from digital media and healthcare applications to video content distribution and media cloud storage.

Such applications are increasingly being held to work to a higher standard so the need for a quality of experience on demand is a problem that needs to be solved.

Virtualisation, a completely disruptive technology, has been introduced to data centre computing and has provided enormous flexibility, including the ability to dynamically optimise resource utilisation based on workloads.

Unfortunately, this new found flexibility at the data centre computing level has not been matched by an equivalent capability within the physical network.

Thus we have a permanent state of congestion that the classic route of over-provisioning with expensive, high-end switches cannot resolve.

Key objectives

Something new had to come along, and it did - software-defined networking (SDN).

The idea is that an SDN approach will bridge the divide between virtual compute resources, storage, applications and networks, providing a seamless, service-driven architecture, allowing applications and the network to collaborate to provide a high quality experience for users and enable optimisation of resources.

The ideal solution to delivering automation to an enterprise network using an SDN approach is to provide three key objectives:

Programmability provides a link between the application control and network control layer to optimise application delivery performance and increase visibility.

Application fluency allows the network to automatically identify and provision applications and react to any subsequent movement of virtual machines. This will unleash workload optimisation capabilities now available and enable the network to dynamically adjust to application traffic flows, providing a high quality user experience.

Global control view will provide application and network control systems with a global view of network conditions. This can help improve decisions on how to treat traffic streams of a particular application, as well as improve decisions made by application control systems concerning placement of virtual machines.

SDN is still in its infancy, and for it to work effectively, vendors need to embrace a collaborative, open, service-first based approach to their customers. The benefits for businesses include:

* Better and more consistent user experience

* Improved network efficiency – centralised management, better service control across whole network fabric for any device, user or application. Decreased complexity.

* Huge operational cost savings

* Improved IT agility

* Supports multi-vendor environments

* Advanced analytics – of the network and its performance

The goal of SDN is to bring automation to the data centre. If done properly, it will provide an evolutionary path to deliver coordinated activity between the network and application control platforms covering new and existing networks.

Dinesh Divakar is solutions director for Alcatel-Lucent, a leading innovator in the field of networking and communications technology, products and services.

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