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How can I get started with SDN technologies?

Networking expert Lee Doyle explains how network architects can get started using software-defined networking technologies -- whether in the campus network, WAN or data center.

SDN technologies offer IT professionals powerful tools to improve the operations and efficiency of their networks (LANs and WANs). Many options exist when using SDN tools for new IT projects, specific applications and in places in the network.

Implementing SDN technologies can seem challenging given their complex set of protocols and lack of standards, as well as the competing products from dozens of vendors. SDN is on its way, however, to becoming an integral part of networking architectures in the data center, campus and WAN.

To get started with SDN technologies, IT professionals should start slow, pick a good application, get experience and then expand their SDN footprint.

When evaluating specific applications, ask which ones could benefit most from the programmability, flexibility and security SDN offers.

These include:

  • Greenfield data center builds: When building a new data center, SDN should be a standard part of the integration between network, server, storage and applications. OpenStack deployments should include SDN capabilities to augment networking functionality.
  • Migrating to private cloud: In order for private cloud operations to be competitive with public cloud services, deploy SDN to improve automation and centralized management.
  • Boost performance of network-intensive applications, such as big data analytics: Big data applications such as Hadoop are highly distributed and can require low latency between processes to optimize performance. SDN offers application prioritization tools to improve network performance.
  • Improve internal data center security: Increased east-west traffic can allow cyberattacks to migrate from one vulnerable application through the data center. SDN provides microsegmentation of applications and virtual machines for internal data center traffic.
  • Cost-effective network monitoring: SDN software on white box switches can lower the cost and improve the flexibility of network monitoring tools to "see" all the network traffic.
  • Improve branch WAN performance: Changing traffic patterns at the branch -- with more traffic going directly to the Internet -- means many organizations need to upgrade their WAN links. SD-WAN offers improved security and higher reliability for Internet circuits.

IT professionals should also get help from trusted channel partners and attend industry events focused on implementing SDN technologies, such as the Open Network User Group and Open Network Summit.

Next Steps

How SDN technologies have evolved

Rest APIs and SDN: What you need to know

Get going with an SDN starter kit

This was last published in January 2016

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