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SDN On the cusp of a mainstream shift


For organizations looking at digitally transforming themselves, SDN can be a stepping stone

With more and more data getting generated, and with the rise of more connected machines, networks in data centers are under huge pressure. Analyst firms like Gartner have said that technologies like IoT will significantly change the data center. The research firm estimates that processing large volumes of IoT data in realtime will increase as a proportion of workloads of data centers. As a result, data center managers have to be better prepared to handle this increasing load. For example, existing data center WAN links are provisioned keeping in mind the moderate bandwidth requirements posed due to human interactions with applications. IoT will change this dramatically, as massive amounts of small sensor data will flow into the data center for processing.

Against this context, technologies like SDN (Software Defined Networking) will play a big role as administrators can write programs to dynamically manage network resources, rather than depend on the capacity of proprietary hardware. SDN hence can change the way data centers are built and managed.

A case in point is the J M Baxi Group, one of the biggest players in the shipping industry. “Shipping & logistics sector is going to be massively impacted by IoT, which makes the role of SDN very crucial. Presently, there is massive amount of labor intensive operations in the shipping industry. It is both a bad and good thing. It is bad as penetration of technology is hardly there in this particular industry, but on the positive side, we have a huge canvas to work on,” elucidates Prasad Patil, CTO, J M Baxi Group on why SDN matters to Shipping industry.

He further explains that in the logistics industry, the container tracking, cargo tracking, the ability to pick-up route survey mapping directly from mobile devices or from camera, the ability to read container serial numbers from cameras and immediately uploading it back into the system, the ability to have sensors to ensure that containers stacked in the yard are done exactly where you want to — are all areas where IoT can be leveraged very effectively. With the usage of SDN, this can be done far more efficiently.

Presently, all these activities are done manually to a large extent. No wonder, that with so much to do in this area, the network plays an integral role. Patil stresses that it cannot be done with a traditional network. “If one pushes mobility in this area, then it is going to be an amazing interplay of technologies driving this sector. This sector can leapfrog over a whole lot of cycles. SDN will be a very good technology for lot of organizations who have lot of legacy infrastructure and are looking at upgrading. In the shipping industry, there are lot of areas like project logistics, bulk logistics where SDN can be utilized. The next-gen challenges and disruptions which will overtake this sector will require a strong network backbone,” he says.

According to him, there will be huge amount of capability if systems from players in this area can directly communicate with government systems. If the turn-around time for transactions improves drastically then the ability to have ships turn-around in the port faster will be huge. Presently, it is slowed down due to manual processes and also because the sector is regulated. The amount of reach in terms of offices is really huge in the shipping industry as there will be offices in each and every port and city. These have to be networked together. However, the challenge right now is that OEMs need to invest in this sector.

A new report by Research and Markets notes that the software-defined data center market will hit $77.18 billion by the year 2020, which is up from the $21.78 billion it was expected to rake in for 2015. Indian businesses today are now accepting SDN as a serious investment decision.

Says B S Nagarajan, Senior Director, Systems Engineering, VMware India, “SDN makes significant financial sense for decision-makers in addition to many other benefits it offers. The biggest of all is the reduced provisioning time that has a rolling effect on business agility and directly translates into cost-savings.”

Specific to India, Gartner states that server, storage and networking market amounts to approximately INR 15,300 crores, out of which at least 5-10% are SDN centric decisions. Sajan Paul, Director Systems Engineering – India & SAARC at Juniper Networks giving his opinion states, “The networking landscape is in a state of rapid transformation in India. As business models evolve, new architectural approaches like SDN are increasingly being adopted to address many of the problems enterprises face. The separation of the control and data plane, along with the high programmability SDN offers through virtualization and simplified software centric network operations are just a few of its characteristics that can help enterprises.”

Paul says that early use case scenarios of SDN are today centered on data center automation/orchestration and Network Function Virtualization (NFV). These two use cases address specific pain points in this era of massively scalable data centers and cloud-based service delivery. SDN allows the server (compute), storage and network to be treated like a single unit of function, dramatically improving the agility of service delivery and time-to-market. NFV on the other hand enables new business models and cloud-based value added services.

States Anup Purohit, Chief Information Officer, Technology & Solutions Group, Yes Bank “The major use cases for SDN will be at the data center as it enhances the benefits of data center virtualization. It increases resource flexibility and utilization and reduces infrastructure costs and overheads. As of today, our bank has not adopted the SDN technology. However, we would be exploring it for our data center and critical hubs locations.” The adoption rate for SDN may not be the highest but will soon attract the attention of customers who are looking for scalable data centres and mobility.

“SDN paves the way for faster digital transformation, faster time-to-market, quicker network provisioning including customized network functions and independence from physical topology as it eliminates network-related restrictions,” states Nachiket Deshpande, Global Delivery Leader, Infrastructure Services, Cognizant.

Mentioning more of its potential for positive impact. Sreekanth SS, Principal Technology Architect, Engineering Services, Infosys gives an example of the medical industry. According to him, in the healthcare industry (hospitals), the medical equipment is frequently moved around and also the patient care data is sensitive and needs to be secured. One of the SDN based OEM product which Infosys works brings in the capability of plug and play connectivity when the equipment is moved around. It also provides a dynamic secure policy addition capability at the end point. In another instance, Infosys has been involved in bringing up enterprise service stack for a Telecom Service provider which enables enterprises to order connectivity services instantaneously using SDN.

SDN requires careful planning

SDN is a disruptive technology and hence it requires careful planning and design for implementation. Sharing some insights on easing the implementation process, Sreekanth SS, Principal Technology Architect, Engineering Services, Infosys says, “At least for the next 5–10 years, there will be lot of co-existence of legacy network and SDN elements which we call as a hybrid network. The primary implementation challenge would be the interworking of legacy and SDN elements. This can be mitigated by choosing right orchestration layer and platform.”

He says that one of the key advantages SDN brings is the network management optimization because of the centralization through common SDN controller. However, if centralization is not done at the right layer, it will result in performance degradation. Choosing the SDN implementation at the right network layer is thus an important design aspect. Also, from a skill and culture perspective there is a huge shift. The traditional network management which was closer to operations will now evolve into a programming role in SDN scenario. This requires new skill development and understanding of concepts like data modeling.

The IT sector is one of the sectors lapping up SDN with lot of enthusiasm. Dr Siddhartha Chatterjee, Chief Technology Officer, Persistent Systems says, ” One of our goals is to have a seamless integration with a cloud platform, with a number of platforms we are developing. We are also expanding rapidly across different geos and having interfaces for setting policies and provisioning services across the network demand compute, storage and network for each individual employee. Application-based policies will decouple high level application connectivity from the complicated details of network configuration. This will lead to operational simplicity and hence lower the overheads. We need a way for applications to be deployed easily, scaled rapidly and without a need for having long lead times through our IT department for the network side of things. The success measure is to reduce application deployment times from weeks to minutes. SDN will provide a powerful framework for hosting and adding value to cloud automation solutions, which provide higher level workflow and process automation services, a single management interface to configure/re-configure networks across different sites/geo is extremely critical. The SDN implementation process is ongoing and will be completed over next two to three quarters at the organization.”

Giving his view on impactful implementation of SDN, Paul of Juniper Networks says, “As such, when building a networking infrastructure, two tenets are always key – resiliency and agility. And SDN is the answer to these two critical factors. Specifically, the areas to pay attention to when setting-up your SDN infrastructure are: an Open Infastructure – allowing you to avoid vendor lock-in and which reduces operational expenses significantly, being standards-based – which allows interoperability and the ability to reuse existing infrastructure, and that of having a hybrid framework – where one must consider both an overlay (brownfield deployment) and an integrated approach (greenfield).”

As the focus of enterprises is shifting towards IoT, SDN implementations are sure to mushroom in a slow yet steady manner. “While SDN is fast becoming a reality, it still has some way to go before it becomes industrialized in the market. Many of our clients have done proof-of-concepts on SDN and some have already adopted it for non-production environments. There is already a significant adoption among telecom and cloud service providers due to their excessive use of network functions and specialized devices,” states Deshpande of Cognizant.

In a digital era where new business models are challenging and disrupting industries rapidly, SDN as a technology will be in demand as Indian enterprises seek to quickly launch new services backed by technology.

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