The Implications of Software-Defined Networks for the Enterprise


There's been a lot of interest lately in software-defined networking (SDN) technologies. Everyone seems to agree that SDNs hold great promise in terms of lowering the total cost of managing enterprise networks and fostering the creation of a new generation of programmable network services.

But what's unclear is the degree to which SDNs will shake up the enterprise networking market. Obviously, Cisco is the dominant networking force in the enterprise today and the company has signaled its intention to apply SDN technologies to its networks. But if the network as a whole can be managed at a higher level of abstraction, an argument can be made that it will become much easier to manage enterprise networks made up of equipment from multiple vendors.

According to ADARA Networks CEO Eric Johnson, that capability will be one of the primary downstream benefits of SDN technologies. ADARA this week began shipping a commercial version of what the company calls a "stack engine" that abstracts the management of layers through seven of the OSI networking models. That software-only ADARA SDN engine, says Johnson, is based on 10 years of SDN research that ADARA has been using to sell products into the government market. Now the company is bringing that technology to the enterprise at a time when standard off-the-shelf processor technology is now powerful enough to run it. Previously, SDN solutions required dedicated networking equipment that was based on expensive custom ASIC processors and floating point gate arrays.

The other big benefit that many people don't appreciate, says Johnson, is that programmable SDN technology will foster the development of an application development community that will build any number of applications that will be able to more easily control and exploit network functionality.

What Johnson is driving at is that profound changes are coming to the enterprise networking market that will change many of the preconceived notions that people have today about building enterprise networks. The obvious first benefit is going to be a significant reduction in the cost of labor associated with managing such networks. But that ultimately is only the beginning of the SDN story.