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How Software Defined Networking (SDN) Continues to Change Telco Network Management
Network design and implementation is an expensive and complex task when it comes to physical networks. Companies need to dedicate a lot of effort and economic investment to keep them up to date so that they respond to their needs. Even so, it is common for networks not to respond to requirements at all times, particularly at the present time with the proliferation of new technologies coupled with a rapid expansion of devices.
SDN stands for Software Defined Networking and it primarily allows an approach to network architectures that advances cloud computing methodologies. It was designed to facilitate network configuration, administration, and control. Basically, it allows the complexity of telco network management or configuration to be brought to the software plane so that they can be programmed, helping to solve the problems of physical networks, adapt to the demands at all times, and lower operating costs.
A software-defined network is fully dynamic, interacts with the cloud, and is managed by a central policy that deploys established sets of rules to every device in the network, reducing the significant labor costs of old methods and modifications.
In this post we will have a look at what SDN is, what are the reasons why this technology is gaining so much weight, and how the OpenFlow protocol has been able to open new and exciting doorways to software-defined networks.
What is Software Defined Networking (SDN)?
Software Defined Networks SDN is a more flexible and dynamic type of network architecture that allows you to centrally manage the network through software applications. With this kind of management, you no longer depend on network technologies and can virtualize most networks and related services.
SDN is changing how networks operate by separating the functions of traffic transmission from the functions of management (including control of both the traffic itself and the devices carrying it out).
How does SDN Work?
This technology replaces traditional network devices with virtual switches or virtual routers. Network operators are able to split the network connection between the end user and the data center for different security settings for different types of network traffic.
The SDN architecture contains 5 main components
Management Plane: SDN uses a set of different network applications to flexibly manage and easily implement new services and applications (load balancing, routing, policy enforcement, or a custom application from a service provider). With the help of existing APIs, the network is organized and automated.
Control Plane: It is one of the most significant layers of SDN architecture. The Control Plane includes one or more controllers that forward various kinds of policies and rules to the data plane through the south interface.
Data Plane: The data layer is also called the infrastructure layer. This layer includes the forwarding devices on the network (switches, routers, and load balancers). The data plane uses the south-facing APIs to communicate with the control layer, getting redirect policies and rules to apply to the appropriate devices.
North interface: Integration between controller and application. Basically, interfaces are a set of open source APIs.
Southern interfaces: Integration between the controller and network devices. Interfaces allow policies to be passed to the forwarding plane.
OpenFlow Protocol – The fundamental element of SDN architecture
The fundamental element of the SDN architecture is the OpenFlow protocol, through which the interaction between the control plane and the underlying network infrastructure is performed. This protocol provides an open and standardized interface for direct control of data flows or flow tables, which, along with the usual address and route tables, are found in modern data switching and routing tools. This lack of direct access to switching and routing tables often results in a diminished proximity to and inflexibility of traditional network equipment, significantly slowing down the development of network technologies. To date, OpenFlow is the only open and standardized protocol that solves this problem and thus provides a separation of control and data levels.
What are the problems of conventional networks?
- Although network protocols have improved, they are designed to solve specific problems and are not capable of working globally. For networks to work as desired, several devices need to be configured separately.
- When the needs of networks are very changing, it becomes a complex task for network administrators, which considerably limits scalability.
- The cost of equipment skyrockets as networks change. Obtaining this equipment is not immediate; it depends on the availability of the hardware and requires investment.
- Virtualization systems and cloud computing greatly facilitate the creation of new machines, which must be attended to. However, physical networks are unable to dynamically meet this demand.
How does SDN network monitoring solve these problems?
Software-defined networks solve these problems programmatically, so they can be defined in a way that can be adapted to each moment.
In SDN, a separation is made between the control plane (the packet forwarding logic, solved by software) and the data plane (implemented by the hardware that performs the transmission). In a conventional scheme, the control plane is implemented by means of the hardware firmware of network devices, so there is a very strong coupling between software and hardware. In SDN network monitoring, there is a complete separation between the control plane and the data plane since they are carried out by different machines.
For systems to continue to function in SDN, both levels require close collaboration. In order for this communication to be possible, there is an application programming interface (API) in the middle of the two planes. It offers the possibility of access (from the control plane to the data plane) as well as interaction via the software. While this API could be implemented by various technologies, the OpenFlow protocol has been accepted as a development standard for the implementation of SDN.
OpenFlow is an open communications protocol developed by the Open Networking Foundation, which allows you to algorithmically decide how packets should be forwarded through physical devices such as switches. Thanks to OpenFlow, it is possible to make the necessary separation between planes so that SDN can be implemented.
What are the benefits achieved through Software Defined Networking?
With SDN, you can control and manage your entire network from a centralized server instead of from every single device. Software-defined networking is designed to improve the work of IT professionals through network acceleration and simplification, helping businesses operate with greater agility.
Thanks to SDN, several benefits are obtained:
- It reduces the need for new hardware to adapt to the needs of the networks, which considerably limits the investment.
- It allows programmatic control of the elements of the network so that rules can be easily established through code. It considerably increases the versatility of the solutions.
- Reduces the need for human intervention when network conditions change, allowing solutions to be flexible (as well as requiring less time to adapt to new demands).
In short, SDN is an innovative network creation pattern that solves specific problems of Telco companies, particularly the new cloud computing infrastructure creation model. To the extent that SDN manages to solve the most prevalent problems of network design and implementation, its application is becoming more and more common. SDN offers a price-conscious methodology to meet the current demands in communications, especially useful in the cloud era.
SDN and NFV are two trends that will revolutionize the telecommunications industry
Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) are two concepts that, increasingly, will revolutionize the way in which telecommunications networks are operated in the world. They are, in essence, a response to abrupt changes in the growing demand for the user and business traffic.
The explosion of mobile devices and applications, as well as the arrival of cloud services, are some of the trends that are leading companies to re-examine traditional network architectures and evaluate those that allow them greater agility through the use of software-based tools and virtualization.
Meeting today’s market requirements is becoming ever more complex with an exclusive architecture of traditional (legacy) network components. Faced with IT department budgets, companies are trying to get the most out of their networks using device-level management tools and manual processes. For their part, carriers face the challenge that current networks were not designed to meet the needs of today’s users, related to greater mobility and the explosion of bandwidth, which means greater demand in your investment (CAPEX) to respond to the needs of your customers and a challenge to achieve a return on your investment (ROI) in the short term.
Software Defined Networks (SDN) consist of technologies that will be defined by a controller, which will centralize through software the intelligence of all the functions of the network layers within the same device, making the network functions programmable in a more agile and easy way.
Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is a similar concept in relation to network architecture solutions that proposes to use techniques related to IT virtualization. NFV consists of the substitution of specialized hardware for virtual machines that can execute different processes on high-capacity standard servers, switches, and storage or also on cloud computing infrastructures. The goal is to achieve more economical and sustainable solutions, giving the option of working with different manufacturers for network administration.
Both concepts are responding to different needs related to the following aspects:
- Data Centers: SDN responds mainly to the infrastructure of the data center and attempts to make all the provisioning of services in the cloud more agile and efficient.
- Business Sector: SDN responds to the centralization of all the administration of the network equipment and to have a more logical operation of the network, according to the needs of users, to make the flow of applications more efficient.
- Carrier: SDN and NFV also focus on the needs of the operator/ carrier since they have specific objectives in terms of reducing the resources they allocate for CAPEX and OPEX. And also help as a solution to changes in their traffic patterns. Users, giving the answer on how operators can optimize investments they make in their network infrastructure, but above all, how they can provide faster and more dynamic services to the end user.
The current situation of the network structure, mainly based on hardware, is not allowing the operator to rapidly evolve its network. And this is where technologies such as SDN and NFV will allow a faster response to the technological changes that users are having in their mobile devices in response to the demand for new services.
What is the future of these technologies?
Operators are already evaluating how to make the network more efficient in light of the growth of technologies around the Third Platform (Cloud, Big Data, Social, and Mobility), as well as the Internet of Things, in forums such as Open Daylight, Open Network Foundation and ETSI, which in addition to operators, bring together end users and network manufacturers to discuss and test these technologies.
The industry is discussing the protocols that SDN and NFV will be operating; One of the consensuses of the aforementioned discussions is the use of Open Flow as an open protocol. On the other hand, proofs of concept are being carried out with the different carriers worldwide to make these technologies more interoperable with their legacy equipment.
Given the advancement of these technologies, it is almost certain that the adoption of SDN and NFV will be a trend of great growth and impact in the coming years, thanks to their contribution to responding to the demand of network traffic.
The faster solutions derived from the agreements of these forums crystallize, the faster the adoption of these technologies will be. It is very important that both companies and carriers learn about the impact of these solutions on their organizations in order to be prepared and get the best benefit from them.