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What is software-defined networking (SDN) and what does the future hold?

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) was a term coined when it became necessary to distinguish between hardware-based networking and by many, SDN is seen as the current and future state of networking. 

Enterprises, carriers and service providers are today faced with a number of competing forces. The huge growth in multimedia content, the rise of cloud computing, the impact of increasing mobile usage and continuing business pressures to reduce costs all mean that many of these players are turning to SDN to change the way they operate and the way their network is structured in order to accommodate and manage these competing forces. 

What is SDN? 

Software-Defined Networking is a network architecture approach that enables the network to be intelligently and centrally controlled using software applications. This helps operators manage the entire network consistently and holistically, regardless of underlying network technology.  

SDN is an architecture that facilitates a more agile and flexible networking solution, allowing enterprises and service providers to respond quickly to changing business requirements. A network engineer or administrator can shape traffic from a centralised control console without having to touch individual switches in the network. This makes responding to changes within the business much more agile and allows the network engineer or administrator complete control over the entire network from one place. 

How SDN works 

SDN enables the programming of network behaviour from the central control console through software applications using open APIs.  

Originally, SDN technology focused solely on the separation of the network control plane from the data plane. In this set up, the control plane determines how packets should flow through the network and the data plane actually moves those packets from place to place. 

By separating the data plane, the flow of packets in the network can be tailored and altered when necessary, not only based on their eventual destination, but the route they take to get there, vastly improving the efficiency of the network. 

Orchestrations and automation with SDN technologies allow for better utilisation of resources, freeing network engineers and administrators up to do their job more effectively. 

How does SDN help with network security? 

Network security is a crucial factor for all enterprises, carriers and service providers and SDN enables a variety of security benefits. The benefits of flexibility and agility that are offered by SDN also follow through to security. Networks can be split into public facing, low security networks that contain no sensitive information with another segment for remote access control with software based firewall and encryption policies on it which can allow for the transfer of sensitive data. 

Being able to look at the network as a whole from one central console and assess the security requirements of each set of workloads is a key benefit of SDN. 

What is SDN’s role in cloud computing?  

We are currently seeing a huge growth in cloud computing across the world. Instead of a traditional model, where system resources and data storage are maintained onsite, business are moving workloads to the cloud. 

This is really changing the way that businesses work. However, moving resources to a cloud-based model brings its own challenges. Migrating resources to the cloud presents one challenge and then how to design, connect and secure resources held in the cloud present further challenges. 

Any business looking at cloud migrations, database migration, archival, moving applications (Virtual Machines (VMs and Containers), require networks that are automated and secure. It’s not just a simple case of lift and shift. NEC works closely with businesses to provide advice on how to design and deploy their network to the cloud, looking at cost, performance, scalability and reachability. 

Automation and Orchestration 

SDN can be used to orchestrate the network infrastructure by gaining end to end visibility and provide feedback to all the layers. SDN enables self-heal networks by integrating predictive engine and pre-programing the network before any fault occurrence. Some of the use cases:  

  • Network visibility   
  • Disaggregation of control and data plane  
  • Service orchestration   
  • Predictive analysis   
  • Self-healing networks 

The future of SDN 

Since its inception, SDN has evolved into one of the most reputable networking technologies and is offered by leading global vendors such as Cisco and Juniper.  

In a recent report by Brad Casmore, IDC research vice-president, Datacentre Networks, titled ‘Worldwide Datacentre Software-Defined Networking Forecast, 2019-2022’, Mr Casmore wrote, “Datacenter SDN no longer attracts breathless hype and fevered expectations, but the market is growing healthily, and its prospects remain robust. Datacenter modernization, driven by the relentless pursuit of digital transformation and characterized by the adoption of cloudlike infrastructure, will help to maintain growth, as will opportunities to extend datacenter SDN overlays and fabrics to multicloud application environments.” 


As one of the world’s leading providers of network solutions, NEC is working with some of the largest and most complex organisations in New Zealand to design, support and deliver SDN solutions. From telecommunications to retail to government, we work across a wide range of sectors to deliver bespoke, turnkey solutions that are supported by our team of field service engineers. 

If you are interested in learning more about SDN, speak to one of the team today. We provide consultancy services that allow us to assess your business needs and provide a solution to meet those needs – not just an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution. Talk to one of the team today. 


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