Software-Defined Networking (SDN): What Is It?

SDN is getting a lot of hype at the moment. Coupled with its kissing cousin, network virtualization, it is all the buzz.

So what exactly is it?

At its most basic level, SDN is an approach to networking in which the control plane is decoupled from hardware and given over to a software controller.  

Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

In a traditional network environment, when a packet enters a switch, rules in the firmware send the packet along the same path, treating all packets in the same way. Some enterprise switches are intelligent enough to recognize differing traffic types and can treat that traffic flow differently; however, such switches are expensive.

A central goal of SDN is to allow network engineers and network administrators to respond quickly to changing business needs without having to change underlying physical infrastructure or individual switches. Another goal is to allow the use of cheaper and dumber network hardware, dealing with the logic and control at a distributed software layer instead.

So what exactly does SDN mean to me?

Well, as a starter for ten, it means that if I have to buy any hardware off you to make it work, it is not SDN. The clue is in the title: “software-defined networking.” Like the hypervisor revolution of the early naughties, this means that hardware should be ubiquitous, with none defined by the vendor. Yes, you may have an HCL (hardware compatibility list), but you are not compelled to buy switch X from vendor Y; further, it matters not that you also have switch W from vendor Q in your environment, either.

So who are the players in this market?

This post will introduce the players in this market and will be continually updated as players enter or leave the space. Later posts will dig down further on the benefits and downsides of each particular product.

Big Switch NetworksBig Switch Network Controller
Calsoft LabsVirtual WLAN Controller
CiscoApplication Centric Infrastructure
HPVirtual Application Networks SDN Controller
IBMProgrammable Network Controller
Inocybe TechnologiesInocybe Infrastructure Controller
ItaltelSession Border Controller
NECProgrammable Flow Controller and Console
NTT DataVirtual Network Controller
NetsocketvFlow Controller
Nuage NetworksVirtualized Services Contoller
PlexxiPlexxi Control
PluribusNetworks Netvisor
Sanctum NetworksJupiter – SDN Controller
Türk Telekom GroupYakamOS

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Tom Howarth (94 Posts)

Tom Howarth is an IT Veteran of over 20 years experience and is the owner of PlanetVM.Net Ltd, Tom is a moderator of the VMware Communities forum. He is a contributing author on VMware vSphere(TM) and Virtual Infrastructure Security: Securing ESX and the Virtual Environment, and the forthcoming vSphere a Quick Guide. He regularly does huge virtualization projects for enterprises in the U.K. and elsewhere in EMEA. Tom was Elected vExpert for 2009 and each subsequent year thereafter.

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3 thoughts on “Software-Defined Networking (SDN): What Is It?”

  1. Hey, Tom

    Good to see you surveying this stuff. There is a significant Open Source initiative in this area called OpenDaylight This could be important in driving standards and interoperability. It smells “real”, and I think the timing is good. It also looks like OpenDaylight is well plugged in to OpenStack, and I think the IaaS/SDN link is likely to be a big driver in the space. Some of the above players are involved in OpenDaylight. Do you know how their offerings relate to the OpenDaylight platform?


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