Many network operators expect the near-term benefits of software-defined networking, or SDN, to be operational in nature: greater management efficiency, fewer interoperability challenges, possible reductions in operational expenses. However, the original promise of SDN—faster, custom innovation through programmability—provides new opportunities for rapid service innovation and monetization for organizations with the resources and processes in place to develop and deploy them.
Not surprisingly, SDN has seen early adoption in service providers and large enterprises with early-adopter IT cultures and active cloud deployments. On the other hand, smaller organizations with very finite infrastructure resources and staff are using SDN to manage traffic spikes and large flows in more efficient ways.
SDN will enable a wide variety of use cases as the technologies mature. In the near term, these are some of the most commonly envisioned scenarios:
- Service assurance through flow optimization in the Wide Area Network (WAN): Public cloud providers may wish to ensure their SLAs by maintaining visibility and control of traffic all the way to the client’s network edge. This can be achieved by deploying SDN-enabled devices both at the cloud provider edge and client ingress, with both devices communicating to the cloud provider SDN controllers. SDN can also help provide granular control of interdata center traffic, including backup or disaster recovery operations.
- Improved security: Administrators can predefine per-user access policies in Zero-Trust environments. Global threat thresholds can be implemented via an SDN controller and automatically monitored across disparate network and security systems, with predefined remediation actions.
- Service improvement and velocity through easily orchestrated virtual network services: By defining within the controller a set of policies that can be applied to configure virtual network functions, the operator is able to truly divorce the service delivered to the client from the limitations of the infrastructure that supports it. The SDN controller can be programmed to support known or predictable large flows or to quickly bring new physical or virtual devices online in the event of spikes, without increasing demand on limited administrator time.
- Service differentiation through rapid customization: The ability to develop new features quickly for highly specialized use cases appeals to many, particularly in the cloud and hosting space, as it can provide opportunities for timely service differentiation and incremental monetization of the network. Such use cases might take the form of new security offerings, service levels, or bandwidth on demand.
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