SDN, big data, and the self-optimizing network

SDN will eventually relieve the burden of manual reconfiguration, but only when we collect and process enough data to enable the network to optimize itself

By Michael Bushong | InfoWorld
SDN (software-defined networking) gains more mind share every day. The concept of reinventing networking to better match today’s applications and infrastructures is a tantalizing goal, but clearly not without its challenges.

Michael Bushong has been around the SDN space for some time, having spent years leading SDN efforts at Juniper Networks. Bushong is currently working at SDN vendor Plexxi, and in this week’s New Tech Forum, he takes a close look at what SDN promises — and what questions need to be answered in order to truly reinvent the network as we know it. For that goal to be realized, says Bushong, SDN and big data must go hand in hand. — Paul Venezia

Big data and SDN: Closing the loop
The networking industry has reached an inflection point. With cloud as the backdrop, SDN and big data are poised to converge in a way that will redefine how data centers function. As with all changes of this magnitude, the reality lies not in the big concepts but in the details of how these two technology forces come together. Those who understand the nuances will be in the best position to exploit the new technology — and provide new points of leverage for data center architects.

Why we need SDN
To understand how SDN and big data will come together, you need to get to the heart of why SDN is hot right now. While much of the emphasis has been on the supporting protocols like OpenFlow, the reality is that SDN is larger than the technologies it comprises. SDN is really an industry reaction to an ongoing pain point in networking.

Today, provisioning and managing a network is a needlessly manual chore. So long as the surrounding infrastructure and applications using that infrastructure are stable and relatively unchanging, that pain is noticeable, but not crippling. But the rise of virtualization in compute and storage arenas has fostered enough workload portability to expose networking’s contribution to IT pain.

The energy behind SDN exists because of the potential to alleviate that pain. But how does that work?

The most basic tenet behind SDN is the separation of control and forwarding. By centralizing control, the network can be treated as a unified resource. With a global view, the SDN controller can use the entire network to service application workloads. Conceptually, this is not unlike global traffic-monitoring solutions in cities today. With a citywide understanding of traffic patterns, control centers can use tools like metering lights and adjustable tolls to control the flow of traffic. …read more