Software Defined Networking (SDN) will have a huge impact on network design. Is it now ready for mainstream?

Bandwidth-hungry applications running on a growing array of devices are pushing traditional networks to their limits.

At peak times, performance and response times over the network can drop off dramatically leaving end-users frustrated and applications dependent on high-speed algorithms compromised.

Instead of fighting for a share of the fixed amount of bandwidth, what if each application could request from the data center the amount of bandwidth it needed to maintain a pre-defined level of performance? In essence, each application would have bandwidth on-demand.

Urgency

This is the premise behind a concept called Software Defined Networking, or SDN as it’s better known in technology circles. It’s been talked about for a few years, but is now taking on greater urgency as the digital world creates increasingly large datasets.

Within data centers, the problem was solved by virtualizing the server environment, which allows IT resources to be dynamically provisioned, as and when needed.

However, while virtualization has made storage and processing of large datasets possible, its transportation to and from end-user applications is constrained by the limitations of the network.

Programmable

To solve this, SDN seeks to apply the same virtualization approach within the network. Instead of the command functions that control the movement of traffic being hard-coded into the underlying network hardware, they’re separated into a ‘logical software layer’, so that they can be independently managed through an SDN controller.

It means the logical overlay can be configured without impacting the underlying physical network, providing full programmability of the entire network from a single location.

Out goes the time consuming need to manually change the fixed hardware, such as routers, and appliances every time a reconfiguration or modification to the network is needed.

Radical shift

Google is an advocate, as are a number of other high profile tech companies, and although SITA Director of Portfolio Development, Benoit Verbaere says the market is still in its embryonic state, he believes businesses need to understand the benefits this radical shift in network technology will bring.

“SDN is going to have a big impact on network design in the future. It enables network automation, which makes it more dynamic and easier to manage.

“Capacity-constrained static networks with fixed bandwidth per site will tomorrow no longer be viable in the digital world. SDN provides a simple way to control the network so it can function more like virtualized data centers.”

He cites other benefits SDN could bring. “The technology has the potential to make significant improvements to service request response times, security, and reliability.

“It could also reduce costs by automating many processes that are currently done manually,” explains Verbaere.

Forefront

SITA has already started planning for an SDN future, as it looks to keep its network services at the forefront of air transport industry communications. As Verbaere says, “The future network expectation is to be as flexible as cloud services.”

SITA is taking an airport-centric approach by delivering ‘Connectivity-as-a-Service’ that leverages its AirportHubTM infrastructure at hundreds of international airports worldwide.

Plug and play

Customers will have ‘plug and play’ access to industry apps, data and systems with the following advantages:

  • Seamless integration between Internet and private networks
  • Online ordering and instant service activation
  • On-demand bandwidth supporting traffic peaks
  • On-demand value added and cloud service type security and WAN optimization
  • Orchestration through a set of application programming interfaces (APIs)

These services will be hosted on site and will be enabled on-demand instead of through the deployment of dedicated specific hardware devices per feature.

SITA’s deployment of SDN will be phased to follow the progression and adoption of the market trend. As the market matures it will deploy SDN around four business models.

Zero touch

Verbaere expects it to lead to exciting developments for airlines and other customers.

“We’re working on a white box architecture that supports multiple services in a single server with a zero-touch deployment approach and with virtualized network functions.

“It will allow optimization, security and bandwidth activation via a central orchestration tool. This should then translate into a shorter ‘time to deliver’ and reduced cost of infrastructure and operations.”

He adds: “Already we’re distributing some of our own applications, such as Airfare Insight and Cargospot, to a major airline using this fully orchestrated, on-demand WAN approach.

“Eventually we’ll package our SDN approach to infrastructure, connectivity and applications into a platform offering that is available to third-party industry partners, such as those in the avionics supply chain or GDSs.”

Going digital

Today’s rigid architecture of conventional networks is ill-suited to the dynamic computing and storage needs of virtualized data centers.

SDN addresses this by introducing flexibility and agility into the network environment enabling network managers to respond quickly to changing business requirements via a centralized control console.

As Verbaere puts it. “Everything in the world is going digital, so our network offering must go digital too.”

 

What's driving SDN?

A number of trends are driving the need to re-think network architecture:

  • The rise of cloud services. On-demand access to applications through the cloud is now the norm for both consumers and businesses
  • Growing number of endpoints. The surge in consumers using their own mobile devices for work purposes requires networks to be far more flexible and secure
  • Changing traffic patterns. Applications are consuming data stored and processed in disparate cloud servers requiring extremely flexible traffic management and access to bandwidth on demand
  •  ‘Big data’ requires more bandwidth. Handling the increasingly common mega datasets requires massive parallel processing that’s fueling a constant demand for additional capacity and any-to-any connectivity

SDN payoffs

Software Defined Networking can address the changing communications needs of the air transport industry with a number of benefits:

  • Automated and faster service activation
  • Cost efficient with less boxes and simplified operations
  • Self-service via digital services store
  • Customer controlled policies
  • Application performance and security centric
  • Hybrid WAN reliable access to cloud apps
  • Increased security
  • Enforce end-to-end SLAs
  • Performance everywhere, including at airport outstations
  • Scales as you grow to full fleet (for airline)
  • Scales as you grow to full capacity (at airports)
Subscribe to the Air Transport IT Review