The future of networking: SDN

22 January 2016 | Kevin Challen

Cover

Kevin Challen

Blog Author | Cyient; VP of communications


The world is getting more connected and network infrastructures are under pressure to meet increasing demands for connectivity. As a result, service providers (SPs) are being forced to enhance their networks and many go out to market in search of networking technology advancements and associated next-gen management tools.

The world is getting more connected and network infrastructures are under pressure to meet increasing demands for connectivity. As a result, service providers (SPs) are being forced to enhance their networks and many go out to market in search of networking technology advancements and associated next-gen management tools.

Service providers can opt to meet elevated capacity demands through the addition of cabling and active equipment. However, this doesn’t cater for increasingly mobile consumers and as such, networks need to become more dynamic as subscribers move across the network. Adding capacity at one node is therefore a pointless tactic, because it only addresses the specific demands of its attached users; the additional capacity will be lost when users move to an adjacent cell. 

Therefore, SPs face a dilemma: either add capacity at all impacted nodes to meet anticipated network demand, or “move” bandwidth around the network. The former pushes SPs to create surplus capacity across the network while the latter is a complex process that demands a comprehensive understanding of recent network capacity trends across both timeframes and locations.

One mooted solution, the ‘self-optimisation’ of networks, can enable the management of network capacity. It can also create an environment where capacity is in a state of constant flux, as the network attempts to manage real-time demands by interacting with other active network equipment.

This is where a potentially revolutionary methodology comes in – software-defined networks (SDN). By incorporating a proactive understanding of the shifting demands placed on network capacity by timeframe and location, it allows networks to be automatically configured to respond to changing conditions.

 

The initial steps towards SDN

There have already been some successful deployments of SDN, particularly within data centres. It revolves around a concept where specific services can be routed based on pre-defined parameters – for instance, an organisation’s cloud CRM service could be routed over a faster network route during normal office hours (a period of higher demand).

Organisations benefit because they know their mission-critical systems can operate at high speeds at peak times, and SPs benefit through the provision of a premium service. The concept starts to become more complicated however, as routes are switched for a large number of services within a more complex network topology.

 

Role of Analytics

Many SPs have begun to use network analytics to model the capacity of their network with the amount used at node level within specific timeframes. The resultant analytics models are used as the framework for SDN implementation, because they provide SPs with the insight and ability to develop alternative routing models which match ever-changing network demands. In future, there will undoubtedly be a role for the integration of real-time analytics and SDN, because it will allow the majority of network optimisation to be performed in real-time. 

The introduction of SDN into SPs’ networks will provide them with new levels of flexible capacity. But as with any new technology, this comes with a caveat – that SPs can only achieve this flexibility by fully understanding and modelling network capacity. 

Not only will SDN provide SPs with the opportunity to refine their networks, but it will also allow for the implementation of network scenarios in anticipation of scheduled and unscheduled events and put in place specific network configurations to respond to any such situations.