Software defined networking (SDN) deployment is already underway at many of the top enterprises, with the pace set to accelerate as the technology moves from the drawing board to the data center. But even before the underpinnings of SDN are in place, IT executives will have to figure out what to do with it. This is where application development comes in.
The simplest way to look at it is that SDN is what the new network infrastructure is, while applications are what it does. As Enterprise Management Associates’ Jim Frey pointed out recently, app development is one of the key indicators that SDN is on its way to becoming a foundational element in the data ecosystem. The release of the OpenDaylight Hydrogen platform was a major step forward for app development, while actual apps like RadWare’s DefenseFlow and HP’s growing library, which contains contributions from BlueCat, Ecode and others, is a strong indication that off-the-shelf apps will soon provide a range of advanced capabilities for organizations that lack in-house development teams.
Meanwhile, Cisco is actively courting the developer community with its DevNet program. The idea is to provide both APIs and the necessary toolkits to encourage development within Cisco’s SDN framework. Company execs told ENP’s Sean Michael Kerner that, unlike past development efforts that were geared toward a specific platform, the DevNet program extends across the entire portfolio, hopefully encouraging developers to devise operational functionality that even Cisco’s designers haven’t thought of.
Meanwhile, telecommunications firms like Allied Telesis are working with developers in order to drive greater value in software defined networking services for enterprise customers. The company has devised a management framework (AMF) that aims to spur greater development on the SDN management plane using both the OpenFlow protocol and traditional Layer 3 switching capabilities. At the same time, it has invited developers to focus their attention on real-world business applications that reduce costs and increase data functionality.
We can liken this situation to the cell phone industry, says Richard Watson of Meru Networks. In the early days, cell phones were primarily used for voice communications and perhaps a little data connectivity. Then along came Apple to show that a broad ecosystem of applications can turn a simple phone into a handheld PC, and now legions of users are addicted to a wide range of apps and services that they never knew they needed or wanted before. The only question is whether the enterprise will warm up to third-party applications that require little or no learning curve, or gravitate more toward integrated apps that provide higher levels of functionality.
Some may think that planning for the application side of SDN is jumping the gun. The priority now is to put the system in place and then work on the fine-tuning later. But while it’s true that software defined networking offers unprecedented capability to configure and reconfigure network architectures, that doesn’t mean there won’t be limits based on how the environment is set up in the first place.
Before you get too deep in the deployment aspects, then, it might be wise to take a moment to envision what kind of application sets you hope to employ.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.