The Year of the (SDN) App

Jim Frey is Vice President of Research, Network Management for Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) and is a featured guest blogger.

While there is still work to be done, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is making steady strides towards achieving the viability and maturity needed to become a foundational element of networking in both enterprise and service provider settings.  One of the key indicators of progress has little to do with the basics of SDN technology itself, but with the growing number of applications designed to leverage and interact with SDNs.  This is creating a “pull” that is every bit as important as the “push” of revolutionary infrastructure technology.

Recent EMA research indicates that while only 1-in-5 enterprise shops has deployed SDN to date, the vast majority are in some stage of research, analysis, or test.  Similarly, research by JDSU/Network Instruments indicates the rate of growth in SDN deployments could be nearly 50% per year between 2014 and 2015.  We’ve all heard of the big, poster child SDN implementations, such as the one by Google, but there are other smaller deployments out there as well – many of them serving a specific purpose or need. Those deployments proved out the underlying technology concepts behind OpenFlow SDNs.  So what is keeping the rest of the marketplace from embracing this technology?  The cost of making the transition is part of the answer, but another, simpler explanation also exists. 

An essential premise of SDN controllers is that they offer “northbound” APIs that can be used to request and obtain flexible, policy-oriented network connectivity.  But an API is an application-programming interface, not a human interface, and that is what has been missing until recently – programs that take advantage of the power and potential of underlay SDNs by directly interacting with the SDN controller.  Those shops with large, well-staffed programming teams (a la Google) can build their own SDN Apps, but the rest of the world needs someone else to do that work for them.  SDN apps for the masses will present themselves as purpose-built solutions for specific business or operations objectives that can be used to take advantage of SDN architectures.

Fortunately, this is changing, and changing fast.  Evidence can be seen in the growing number of products and initiatives at the application layer of the SDN model.  For example:

  1. Continued Traction for OpenDaylight:  The industry consortium OpenDaylight project (ODL), and its Hydrogen SDN platform, represent an essential step towards standardization of northbound APIs, allowing SDN App developers to avoid adapting and certifying solutions with each and every provider of SDN controller technology.  The value and significance of OpenDaylight Hydrogen was acknowledged when it won the “Best of Interop SDN Award” and as well as the “Best of Interop Grand Prize,” the first ever open source project to do so.  Some open SDN applications have already been released that specifically take advantage of ODL, one being Radware’s Defense4All, the industry’s first open SDN security application to be integrated in OpenDaylight.

  2. Radware DefenseFlow Announced in July 2013, one of the very first commercial SDN applications to reach the market was the DefenseFlow solution from Radware.  DefenseFlow was designed to automatically recognize and take actions to reduce or eliminate the impact of DDoS attacks – something that happens on an all-to-often basis on the live Internet.  DefenseFlow has been adapted to support NEC, HP and Cisco SDN solutions, but also supports OpenDaylight, and thus can work with any SDN underlay that supports the OpenDaylight standard.

  3. HP:  As one of the strongest industry advocates for SDN, HP has implemented OpenFlow protocol support across nearly its entire line of network switches and also introduced the Virtual Applications Network (VAN) Controller.  But in parallel, HP has also built a library of SDN Apps.  Some are developed and supported by HP themselves, but the library includes a growing number of partner SDN applications, developed by the likes of BlueCat, Ecode, GuardiCore, Radware, and RealStatus.  These are available for simple, fast download into the HP SDN VAN controller via an SDN App Store function on the controller itself.

The true potential of underlay SDNs is taking form, and is beginning to look a lot less vaporous.  Deployments are growing, standards are evolving, and finally, applications are beginning to arise that will help mainstream adopters capture the promised value.  When we look back in a few years at the rise of SDN, 2014 may well be remembered as “The Year of the App.”

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