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Often when we talk about software-defined networking (SDN), the conversation tends to focus on the datacentre. Clearly there are major benefits to SDN in your datacentre network, but the significant advantages of 'software-defining' your campus LAN are often ignored. Futureproofing the architecture of your network, through the dynamic flexibility the software brings can make your network a much more productive tool.
Let's define SDN for those who are new to the subject, or need a refresher. SDN is the process of moving all decision-making (routing, authentication, etc.) from the forwarding / data plane (i.e. the physical network devices themselves) onto a separate control plane running centrally on software. The result is that the physical infrastructure becomes simply a packet-forwarding fabric, with the decision making and intelligence separate and centralised. Centralising policy creation enables organisations to make changes more rapidly, and with less risk - reversing a change is much easier. This acceleration is a huge bonus to organisations, but it's not the only reason you might consider deploying SDN in your campus environment.
Security is constantly something we find ourselves talking about, and SDN is no difference. The benefit of SDN is that because all network controls are on the software plane, making changes to your security policies is much easier. Previously security policies were tied to interfaces and VLANs, this caused policies to be rigid and inflexible and ignored the dynamic way in which applications work. Whilst other authentication tools and identity access-management solutions can assist in part with this, the controller within an SDN solution can interpret the wider context of a network flow (time, date, application, user etc.) so your security team can build policies around the applications you use, and how you want to work with them.
The SDN dream is that it will remove the challenges of integrating a network made up of different technologies, vendors, and GUIs. It's often the case that as networks grow, different components are purchased and configured on an ad-hoc basis. This scattered approach of buying-as-you-go doesn't lend itself well to networks that chop and change with different security policies. If you virtualise your network via a single SDN controller, you can control configuration and management of network devices in one place, giving you a single view to ensure the configurations are correct and uniform. This complete 360° visibility helps ensure secure configuration compliance, and also speeds up your network change management process.
One advantage of your networking being defined by software is that the quality of service can be automatically defined using a list of common applications – and dramatically improved. Previously this needed a device, port or protocol to control it, but the software-defined approach enables you to deliver best experience to users operating the most important or bandwidth-hungry applications. Secondly, the reporting enables organisations to identify the in-demand, and used applications. You can then increase the accuracy and quality of service, so those who work on multiple intensive applications will be much happier!
If the above has piqued your interest, and you're keen to understand how introducing a software-defined networking architecture to your IT infrastructure can enhance the way you currently do business, get on the blower. Softcat's networking and security team, supported by our technical design team, are here and ready to assist you. To open this discussion, please contact your account manager, or send us a message using the button below.
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