The drivers and benefits of both NV and SDN technology are similar, which is not surprising since NV is often dependent on the use of an embedded SDN controller within the platform to achieve its results. Users see the benefit of using software technologies to create logical connections over physical resources, virtualizing the networking infrastructure. This can simplify networking management, speed up the delivery of new services, and potentially reduce costs.
This is different from the way that networking systems have been built in the past, where most systems were implemented using proprietary hardware platforms that often came with integrated management systems. In our discussions with end-users and the collection of survey data, we have learned that these perceived benefits are almost universal: end-users see software-driven management of networking, including many open source tools, as easier and more flexible to use. Both enterprise network managers and service providers tell us they like the attributes of NV and SDN because it means that they can deliver services and service changes more rapidly, using software, rather than ripping and replacing large swaths of hardware.
The move to a virtualized, SDN environment has other potential benefits: it’s expected to drive the use of standardized, commodity off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, which can drive down costs. Our research indicates though, that this benefit is seen by users as secondary to flexibility and service agility.
With the rise of cloud architectures and the need to build scalable applications that handle large volumes of data (media, analytics, virtual reality/augmented reality, IoT), we see continued demands on networks. NV and SDN give organizations a way to keep up. This is why end users see the capability to deploy, change, and move network resources as critical in this fast-moving environment.
NV and SDN Business and Technical Benefits
Below are some of the key benefits of NV platforms (and associated SDN controllers) that we have identified in today’s environments:
- Management Flexibility: The fundamental benefit of NV and SDN is that control of the network can be managed via software, usually in a centralized manner. This allows network topologies, applications, security, and routing to be changed on the fly, without having administrators log into multiple pieces of network equipment and changing configurations to each one
- Scalability: It’s well understood how virtualization can help a network scale. Fixed network topologies can be rigid and prone to management problems. New encapsulation techniques in today’s overlay networks and intelligent partitioning of parallel networks help avoid the limitations that come with traditional VLANs, which can only support 4096 isolated networks. The most popular encapsulation for many datacenter NV implementations, VXLAN, provides a 24-bit virtual network interface (VNI) that supports 16 million virtual networks. Virtualization also enables capacity to be added more easily, making sure the network delivers the performance and reliability demanded of their environment.
- Operational Cost Savings: Tied closely to flexibility, operational costs can be saved by reducing management overhead and time to launch a service or set up a network – including automation. One of the trends tightly tied to NV and SDN is the move to COTS hardware, or at least more interoperable equipment and standards, meaning that more network management functions can be executed via a software on the virtual level, reducing the time and cost of managing physical hardware changes and configurations.
- Capital Cost Savings: The expansion of the COTS hardware market for SDN, as well as the demand for increased interoperability of networking gear, is reducing the number of proprietary networking products and pushing the networking industry toward greater standardization. Over time, this allows merchant silicon vendors to create high quality, lower cost products which contribute to lower hardware costs overall.
- Programmability: NV platforms and their associated SDN controllers provide the capability to redirect traffic, apply dynamic traffic filters, and deliver Quality of Service (QoS) in most of today’s implementations. In addition, they can leverage automation techniques such as templates to create applications and network configurations. Using northbound APIs, the controller can dynamically adapt the network in response to applications and optimize traffic flows.
- Monitoring and Visualization: NV platforms enable end-to-end visibility of the network and centralized management to improve overall performance. This can help identify problems and speed troubleshooting. Also, many SDN controllers will discover and present a logical abstraction of all the physical links in the network, with the ability to observe how the multiple virtual networks that are running on top of the physical network are operating. By supporting standard monitoring protocols, the information can be integrated with other management and orchestration systems.
- Security: SDN controllers can enable network managers to control security of the network and applications from a central point. SDN controllers are starting to incorporate security-related functionality that ensures the controller is not the weakest link in the network and cannot be easily compromised. On the NV front, micro-segmentation, the ability to apply fine-grained controls to traffic flows between VMs and containers and to provide visibility into traffic flows, is viewed as one of the key drivers to adoption of NV technology.