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Will Unified Communications Become the Killer App for Software-Defined Campus Networks?
Software-defined networking (SDN) represents a significant shift in network architecture and administrator, and brings the hope of a network truly friendly to bandwidth-intensive unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) applications. This market insight will discuss the benefits, challenges, and market opportunities for extending SDN technologies to the access layer or campus network in support of increasingly dynamic UC&C applications.
Ever since private branch exchange (PBX) systems moved from dedicated wiring to reside on the enterprise Internet Protocol (IP) network, there has been an uneasy truce between unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) platforms and their host networks. Bandwidth-intensive IP telephony, video, and web collaboration applications have the ability to decimate improperly architected networks. As a result, network administrators must continually make accommodations in their network policies to ensure that the appropriate resources are given to UC&C platforms without impacting the other mission-critical business applications. The stress on the network has only been exacerbated with the emergence and adoption of real-time video and web collaboration as part of a broader multimedia UC&C stack. At the same time, virtualization on data center servers and user desktops is accelerating the rate of change and is making once-static infrastructures extremely dynamic and distributed. A software-defined network (SDN) offers a fundamental change to how enterprise networks operate, and in turn, may turn the uneasy truce between networking and UC&C into a lasting peace.
This market insight will discuss the benefits, challenges, and market opportunities for extending SDN technologies to the access layer or campus network in support of increasingly dynamic UC&C applications.
What is Software-Defined Networking?
The premise of SDN is simple: separating the data plane, the parts of the network switch that move packets from point A to point B, and the control plane, the supervisory components that define the makeup of that network. In software-defined networks, the data plane in either hardware or virtual switches becomes subservient not to its on-board supervisor, but to an external controller application running on physical or virtual servers. In the case of Open Flow, one of the early SDN protocols, a small piece of software, known as an agent, is embedded within the firmware of the network switch, directing it to take commands from the external application.
In theory, software-defined networks make a lot of sense. The controller server is not bound to a single network switch to supervise, yet it can deliver command and control capabilities across every network switch in the enterprise. The controller software can be just another rack of physical servers or run as multiple virtual machine instances in order to provide redundancy and high availability. This architecture can be significantly less costly than paying for redundant hardware supervisors in every single network switch. With a high level of visibility, the SDN controller can direct individual network ports, no matter where on the enterprise network they physically exist, to join together as a logical switch which can present itself as a local switch to the servers and devices. Because it is driven by software, all of the network designs and configurations can be changed instantly and dynamically, with or without human intervention.
Even without integration, these capabilities can make UC&C applications appear as though they are running side-by-side on the same local network. SDN can make it happen, even if the individual applications are in separate server racks or disparate data centers. If the applications are moved around in the virtual environment, an SDN will track those movements and automatically adjust the environment to maintain the logical network, both on-premises and, in theory, in a cloud-based infrastructure.
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