Networking has traditionally been hardware dominated, but the emergence of the cloud and the increasing irrelevance of speciality enterprise gear is heralding a paradigm shift. As a result, software defined networking (SDN) is well on its way to become the new networking norm.
The cloud has a large variety of workloads running on an even larger variety of hardware at any given time. Moreover, cloud services promise anytime availability, mandating the servers to be ‘always on’. This has spurned simple high-performance boxes made of merchant silicon or other fabric which pulls all the tasks together. In SDN, such hardware components become complementary to software-defined data centers with the value addition taking place in the software rather than the hardware.
The reasons for the shift to SDN from hardware defined networking have to do with the changing nature of computing.
- Recent developments such as the spurt of rich media content such as videos, the popularity of collaborative tools such as video conferencing and big data analytics that seek to analyze huge quantity of data have exposed the inadequacy of legacy static networks which necessitates flexible, dynamic and scalable networks.
- People hook up to the Internet through multiple digital touch points in a big way these days. Thanks to BYOD, employees can access the corporate network through their mobile handsets and the same person may own and use a tablet, another smartphone for personal use and even the legacy desktop. International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that there would be about 30 million connected devices by 2020. This necessitates increased bandwidth requirements and has, in turn, given rise to dynamic and scalable networks that cope with the requirements. For instance, most network vendors now offer 40 and 100 gigabit per second Ethernet (GbE) switches, a big jump from the hitherto 10 GbE switches.
A software-based shift had already been played out in the server market when the cloud matured. As the server boxes became more commoditized, the server vendors were forced to realign their businesses to cater to the scale of needs mandated by cloud computing. The same shift is all set to replicate in networking as well.