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SDN and the enterprise campus network

SDN campus solutions have the potential to impact current LAN architecture, changing the enterprise campus network.

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What impact will SDN have on the enterprise campus network?

The focus of SDN has been in the data center, with network virtualization and network overlays. But it's only a matter of time before we start seeing some real solutions emerge for the enterprise campus. SDN campus solutions have the potential to impact LAN architecture.

The primary goal of an enterprise campus network is not going to change. Campus networks first and foremost need to provide users access to applications, offering the ability to quickly turn knobs for added security, availability and network services.

Similarly, we saw this with wireless over the past several years. As wireless designs went from each access point running a full-blown operating system, to a fully centralized model, and now to a distributed controller model, the underlying goal of user mobility and device flexibility throughout a given environment has not changed. So why the change in the WLAN architecture? There are at least two good reasons, in my opinion, that directly map back to the network and SDN.

First, having any kind of controller required for a given network or wireless network streamlines management and operations. It dramatically simplifies the life of an IT admin. Think about server virtualization environments: They have hypervisor managers, voice environments, IP PBXs, wireless, controllers, and the list goes on. The LAN does not have this -- the LAN has box-by-box CLI management with optional add-on management systems.

Second, integration to applications is difficult without a controller. One example is integrating a network admission control (NAC) tool. This can be deployed for wireless environments quickly and easily because of the controller model -- same for vSphere environments via vCenter integration. But for integrating with LAN and wired environments, each individual access layer switch needs to be touched and configured.

At the end of the day, SDN in the campus will initially offer very similar functionality, compared to what is already offered, but the underpinnings and low-level architecture will look much different. A change in these underpinnings will offer greater flexibility and programmability than currently available, leading to smoother application integration, better control over user access and an enhanced user experience on the network.

This was first published in August 2013

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