The Covid pandemic rewrote the way that people handle shopping and working, driving people to shop online and work remotely. It also pushed businesses into embracing the worlds of e-commerce, virtual private networks, and IT infrastructure. The part that likely shocked some businesses was how poorly traditional networks fare under these new conditions.
The old standbys of Cat 5 or Cat 6 cables, switches, hubs, modems, and routers groan under these heightened demands. That’s why some businesses now look to software-defined networking as a solution. Not sure what software-defined networking is or how it might benefit your business?
Keep reading for our overview.
What Is Software-Defined Networking?
At the big picture level, software-defined networking serves as a way of simplifying network management and infrastructure. It largely does this by replacing the local configurations of network devices with digital controls.
You also see more centralized control over resources and even security. That proves invaluable in large organizations that may use thousands of networked devices.
Limiting reliance on physical devices creates more flexibility in your network.
Networks operate with what is called architecture planes. Most operations fall with one of three main planes:
In a traditional network, the control and data planes operate together through the physical hardware of the network. That meant that all the hardware needed correct configurations.
If something wasn’t configured correctly, problems could ripple outward and disrupt the network. Even worse, you could spend a lot of time tracking down and fixing the offending device. All while your network delivered subpar performance, slowing down every activity connected to it.
In software-defined networking, you separate out the control plane and the data plane. The control plane operates independently of the local hardware. It directs network traffic with a view of the entire network, not just the closest network devices.
This bird’s eye view encourages more efficient routing of data packets across the network since you can avoid congested areas of the network.
The data plane is the physical layer of the network. It still handles the actual transmission of data from one part of the network to another part.
The management plane deals with configuring the network and usually operates as a central hub of information for the network as a whole.
Software-Defined Networking Benefits
Based on the technical information above, the benefits of an SDN might not become immediately apparent to anyone not working with them. Those benefits are very real. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The single biggest advantage of an SDN is centralized control. You can update, adjust, correct problems, and monitor from a single location. Every problem doesn’t mean an in-person trip to another floor or another building.
That centralized control means enhanced efficiency in applying updates to the network since you can apply them across the entire network digitally.
It also creates better efficiency in cost terms. You get extended life from network devices, which cuts down on replacement costs. Plus, you see smoother operations overall which should improve productivity and profitability.
The centralized control features of an SDN give you a lot of customization power. For example, you can customize the total network resources an application can access. You can also write applications to handle specific security concerns, such as access control.
Speaking of security, SDNs can grant you much finer control in security terms. After all, consider how often someone makes a virtual machine for a short-term project or connects a personal device to the network. Applying content filters to those devices or virtual machines creates a mountain of headaches on traditional networks.
Centralized control makes it far easier to apply security controls to every device and machine on the network.
Software-Defined Networking Disadvantages
A software-defined network does come with a few disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that these networks used centralized control. That creates a single point of failure if someone launches a successful network attack.
Although, that serves more as an argument for robust security measures on your network than an argument against an SDN.
Converting over to a software-defined network means required training for staff to get them up to speed on the hardware and management tools.
You also lose out on the built-in security you get from some hardware devices, such as routers and switches. Again, this serves more as an argument for creating strong security than dismissing SDNs as a possibility
Implementing Software-Defined Networking
Implementing software-defined networking isn’t an overnight process. There is also some hardware involved, so you’ll want a reputable software-defined networking company on board for that.
Run a small-scale test case on part of your network first. This approach lets you test the hardware itself without potentially crippling your entire organization. It also lets you work out some of the collaboration kinks between departments.
A test case also gives your employees a chance to gain experience with running the new type of network. If you run a small IT staff, you can also look for a third party company to run SDN management.
Once you get things up and running, roll out the SDN across the organization network in stages. This reduces the odds of catastrophic failure and protects your internal productivity.
Is Software-Defined Networking Right for You?
Software-defined networking, by its very nature, helps organizations with large, complex networks. Keeping track of and managing a couple of hundred network devices becomes a daunting task. That isn’t the case for most small businesses.
Your average small business might run a handful of network devices and one or two servers. The time, effort, and new hardware involved in converting don’t make sense in most cases. If you do run a vast network, though, an SDN can simplify your life in profound ways.
Looking for more tips on managing your network? Check out the articles in our Tech section.