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SDN – The Revolution in Network Infrastructure

Software Defined Networking is a paradigm, aimed at creating a better architecture for networking. The concept emerged in 2008 and finally reached the executable stage in 2011. So, what is SDN? For understanding this, let us have a look at the traditional networks.

In traditional networks, the network functionality is carried out by dedicated hardware appliances, such as routers, switches etc. These appliances are bought from particular vendors. The major drawback of these hardware devices is that they are individually configured, i.e., the software for a device is coupled to the particular device. This is a hardware centric approach.

The disadvantages of this approach are:

1) Time consuming configuration
To add a new device, the IT administrator will have to manually configure each of the device, update the settings using tools, making it difficult to provide a consistent set of policies. This in turn affects security and results in non-compliance.

2) High skill required
The hardware bought are usually from multiple vendors. Therefore, the person doing the configuration should be highly knowledgeable about the attributes of all the different vendors’ equipment. In other words, only the person skilled for this can reconfigure it, and no one else, which reduces flexibility.

So what changes in SDN?
SDN decouples hardware from software. This is done with the help of two planes- the Control plane – brain, which decides where the traffic is to be sent and the Data plane – the muscle, which executes the decisions and forwards traffic.

Result?
By doing this, the software will be now in the control plane and the hardware will be left with the data plane. This eliminates device-level management, enabling the network administrator to control the entire traffic from a central server, without configuring individual device, enabling dynamic decision-making. In addition, the decision made can be sent through an application, which will be running on the server, to the data plane, thus making the network highly scalable, flexible and agile.

Need for SDN in addition to traditional drawbacks
1) Increasing number of internet users, which is expected to reach 4.1 billion in 2020 from 3.8 billion in 2017.
2) Varying traffic pattern with increasing data traffic.
3) Evolution of cloud, which will ultimately increase the traffic burden on network.
4) Evolution of IoT, which requires uninterrupted service with low latency and high accuracy for services such as video surveillance, monitoring etc.

Global SDN market and major vendors.
By 2020, the global market for SDN will reach $12.5 billion, according to IDC report. The vendors are many, from start-ups to tall network giants. Enterprises first have to identify their operational needs and choose the vendors. The major SDN vendors are IBM, Cisco Systems Inc., HP Enterprise Co., Juniper Networks, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., NEC Corporation, Pica8, Brocade Communications Systems, Inc., Ciena Corporation, Intel Corporation, Pluribus Networks, and Big Switch Networks, Inc.

SDN/NFV Market in India
Before looking into the market let us, understand Network Function Virtualization (NFV). NFV is the shifting of network functions from dedicated appliances to generic servers. In NFV, there is no centralization, but only virtualization of hardware. NFV becomes a complementary to SDN.

In India NFV & SDN has started to attract service providers and other technology providers. According to IDC report, 63% of large Indian enterprises planned to deploy SDN in 2016. According to VMware, SDN vendor, which is in talks with Indian operators, by 2018-19 its market potential in terms of virtualization will approach $400 billion and around 10-15% of expenditure on NFV will be in Indian market alone by 2020. This sudden growth is fuelled by the cutthroat competition from Reliance Jio.

-Rosemary Varghese (Systems & Finance)

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