As networks are quickly transforming into platforms for agile applications and analytics, IT leaders are challenged to achieve greater efficiencies through network automation. Traditionally, network automation involved simple scripts embedded in device configurations to handle repetitive tasks. For the most part, network provisioning and configurations were manually performed. The manual processes are usually cumbersome, resource-inefficient, and involves error-prone, inconsistent policies.
Software Defined Networking (SDN) introduces network virtualization capabilities, which makes it easier to build and manage network automation tasks. Using SDN, networks can be provisioned at the software-layer, by abstracting the underlying physical hardware. This takes automation to the next level and significantly accelerates network provisioning and configuration management. It also enables IT to attach network and security services to workloads using a policy-driven approach.
SDN is thus a key enabler for advanced network automation at scale. That’s also probably the reason why we’d often find the terms SDN and network automation used interchangeably.
Network Automation Reaches the Next Level With SDN
Network automation is possible without SDN. But SDN adds a number of capabilities to conventional automation paradigms, which optimize IT resource requirements, improve security, and reduce cost.
SDN accelerates IT efficiency
In traditional network devices, both the control plane (governs access and supervisory functions) and data forwarding plane need to be programmed individually. To achieve a new traffic pattern, for example, if changes in existing configurations are warranted then the administrator has to re-configure the control plane in all the relevant devices, by using the command-line interface of the device OS. This is a resource-intensive process, and prone to errors.
Moreover, as long as the control plane is confined to individual devices, it is not possible to get a holistic view of the network infrastructure. Support teams need to keep track of individual device configurations, perform complex troubleshooting and time-consuming management tasks, which eats into budget and profitability.
SDN addresses these problems head-on. In an SDN-based model, devices retain their individual data forwarding planes; however, the control plane for all devices is centrally managed by a common controller. Changes to management configurations are made in one location and propagated to all network devices. This centralized approach abstracts actual business intent from the underlying hardware, and thereby simplifies network management tasks, and improves time efficiency.
With SDN, IT administrators have full visibility into network elements and applications spanning the entire infrastructure from a central location. This visibility enables administrators to enforce consistent policies, automate network functions at scale, achieve agility, and to reduce troubleshooting times and outages.
Improved routing intelligence
The centralized management control and holistic visibility take traffic routing efficiencies across networks to the next level. By exploiting software-defined network functions and virtualized services, traffic can be intelligently routed through optimal paths across the network. Advanced automation tasks can use this routing intelligence to activate or deactivate routes based on performance thresholds, such as network load, latency, and jitter. Predefined policies can automate load balancing, manage bandwidth, and perform root cause analysis.
AI can be used with SDN to build more sophisticated network automation scripts to efficiently manage the flow of data and traffic in various complex scenarios.
Network automation to enhance security
Security is enhanced by many orders of magnitude with SDN-based network automation. In addition to minimizing security breaches due to misconfigurations and inconsistent policies, SDN supports micro-segmentation policies, which offers a substantial improvement in security.
Micro-segmentation separates individual workloads into different zones or segments. These zones are secured individually and isolated from other segments. Using micro-segmentation, enterprise IT teams can implement virtual firewalls around servers to control the lateral movement of high traffic volume within data centers. In the case of a security breach, micro-segmentation limits the potential of lateral exploration of networks by hackers.
For agility, SDN functions are implemented in the hypervisor layer, wherein security policies are implemented in the workloads. When a workload moves, the security policies, and attributes move with it. This enables IT administrators to lock down the security postures, especially when the development community spins up new VMs.
The holistic visibility of the networks offers additional security as in addition to IT admins being able to monitor routing, switching, remote access, wired and wireless components, they can also monitor, detect, and prevent potential threats and attempted intrusions.
The security, efficiency and visibility benefits of SDN-based network automation can propel organizations to increased profitability. To implement SDN as a well-defined service offering, it is also imperative to standardize the automation processes to ease adoption and lifecycle usage. Skills training and collaboration across functional teams are the crucial cultural components which enterprise leaders must address to exploit the benefits of SDN.
At Acadia Technology Group, we understand the benefits and challenges of getting started with SDN. Our experienced Cisco engineers will advise you and assist you with implementing a networking solution that works for you. For more information on SDN, contact us today.