3 Benefits of the SDN for Enhanced Network Visibility

André Vink By: André Vink January 08, 2018

What is SDN?

Where networks and network traffic were once managed using hardware appliances, modern network management can now be handled through virtual data centers using software management tools which allow for increased agility and flexibility.

These networks are referred to as a Software Defined Network, or SDN. In an SDN, a network administrator no longer needs to configure each piece of hardware, such as network packet brokers, but can apply changes to the entire network through a centralized console. The ability to manage your network on this level improves scalability and cost, particularly in the virtual data centers space.

1. SDN’s enhance network visibility across multi-site locations

SDN’s contribute greatly in enhancing network visibility in multi-domain locations thanks to their ability to access all the elements of a network through the visibility plane. This gives you a better understanding of the traffic moving through your network, centralization of network management, and helps the network administrator identify and eliminate any network blind spots.

Let’s take a look at an example of an SDN in visibility. A mid-size enterprise might have 3 or 4 data centers. These data centers might have out-of-band (OOB) monitoring requirements, such as application performance monitoring, or security requirements, such as IDS. In order for efficient traffic grooming between locations to occur, an intelligent open interface is needed to connect all the locations together.

This requires a physical connection, and a logical connection. An SDN is able to provide a logical connection thanks to the inclusion of OpenFlow technology. OpenFlow is one of the standard protocols used to communicate between an SDN's controller and forwarding plane, although it is often incorrectly used as a synonym for SDN’s.

2. SDN's improve network scaling

Most solutions associated with network visibility make use of hardware devices such as monitoring and security tools, bypass switches, terminal access points (TAP’s) and network packet brokers (NPB’s). The challenge that is often faced is scaling - each hardware device has limited bandwidth and can struggle to handle the ever-increasing amounts of network traffic that most organisations are handling today.

SDN technology helps scaling in a seamless fashion by ensuring traffic flows in such a way that it doesn’t overload the bandwidth requirements of any specific device. The SDN is able to achieve this thanks to an OpenFlow agent and SDN controller that allow access to a larger number of network elements than hardware appliances normally would. This is of great benefit to larger businesses, such as telecommunication companies or Mobile Service Operators (MSO’s), who will need to scale their networks to handle increasing amounts of data.

For example, a global company with 20 data centers around the world needs complete visibility of all flows so that they can be analyzed. Data analysis is possible to perform with one or two datacenters, but as the number of datacenters increases, so does the number of network appliances. This in turn increases the complexity of this task. However, SDN technology allows you to interact more easily with the various components in your network through its centralized management, making it simpler to gather data from multiple network devices and manage it in a single virtual data center.

3. SDN improves inline security and traffic grooming

SDN technology can be combined with advanced visibility layer management features (in Niagara’s portfolio that’s supported by the NVC) to improve security. Traffic is seamlessly directed through security tools, which are typically inline appliances. This traffic, either pre or post-inspection, is then sent to another location or dropped depending on the requirements of the network.

NVC with SDN technology allows you to take multiple flows of traffic from multiple locations and ensures that the relevant flows are sent to the correct appliances. These technologies are able to do this using fabric flows. Fabric flows allow you to groom traffic from a single location or across multiple locations to ensure that traffic flows correctly. This is primarily done to ensure the security of your network, but can be also applied to other traffic elements such as metadata or performance.  

For example, if a company has data centers in Boston, London, and Hong Kong, then by combining the SDN controller with NVC, they can take specific flows from each of these data centers and send them for analysis in another location, such as Argentina or other central location.

NVC’s user interface is highly intuitive . The user is able to drag and drop multiple source locations, group them together and send them to another destination for analysis. This also makes traffic grooming a much simpler process.

SDN technology allows for the underlying, complicated tasks typically associated with network management to be simplified and made more transparent.

For more information on SDN’s and how you can leverage them to improve your business, be sure to contact one of our network visibility consultants and schedule a session with them today.

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