Software-defined networking: New networks are emerging from virtualised infrastructures

Cloud computing, the Internet of Things and new mobile technologies are also posing new challenges for networks. Industry is responding with an open network platform.

The four major issues that currently dominate the discussion in IT – big data, cloud computing, mobility and the Internet of Things – will require significant changes to the infrastructure of data centres in the coming years. Virtualisation, without which cloud computing in its present form would not be possible, is particularly important in this regard. However, while virtualised servers and increasingly also virtualised storage become the norm, networks are largely continuing to stick to their traditional structures. They create strong connections between clients and servers and establish gateways for communication between multiple networks. However, in a world in which virtualised workloads change quickly, this concept is too static. Even the expansion and extension of networks will not change that reality.

The path to software-controlled data centres

In a future in which billions of devices are linked together on the Internet of Things and transmission rates are many times higher than current levels, networks must be able to react quickly and flexibly to ever more rapidly changing requirements. This is only possible, however, if they too are virtualised, highly automated, and integrated under unified management. This will result in a software-defined data centre (SDDC) or a software-defined infrastructure (SDI) with completely virtualised components, from the server to the storage device through to the network.

This virtualisation of networks can only be achieved through greater interoperability between the components of different manufacturers. This is the only way to transfer the proprietary control of the network hardware to a single console for the entire data centre, which then allows for uniform configuration. This, in turn, requires the definition of open standards that facilitate direct communication between the hardware and software of different manufacturers.

Interoperability in the consortium

Intel has launched the Intel Network Builders initiative for this purpose. It is intended to support and accelerate the pending transformation by developing solutions for software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) in the networks of telecommunications companies and data centres. The programme aims to bring together service providers and users with infrastructure, software and technology manufacturers.

More than 180 companies have already joined this initiative; the list includes Brocade, CA, Canonical, Cisco, HP, Huawei, Infosys, NEC, Overture, SuSE, VMware and Oracle, among others. The (still short) list of users includes, for example, China Telecom, Nasdaq, NTT and Telefonica.

In mid-August 2015 Intel also launched a Network Builders Fast Track, which is designed to further promote the interoperability of different products by developing optimised hardware and software solutions and by integrating technology.

SDDCs require uniform standards

It is already foreseeable today that the networks of tomorrow will no longer be controllable by human administrators. They will have to be replaced by automatic mechanisms. The software-defined data centre is an important step in this direction. Before the software can take over the control, however, the hardware must first follow uniform standards. (rf)