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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Network transformation is the next big IT initiative

Over the past two decades, the IT industry has gone through several key transformations. Developments in compute and storage virtualization laid the foundation for cloud computing. Mobile devices and applications have also changed how end-users access data located within their enterprise data centers. These transformations were primarily driven by advancements made in microprocessor technology and efficiencies gained by delinking software from hardware. That delinking, in turn, enabled software to provide the bulk of services by leveraging processing power of standard microprocessors without requiring application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC). It also opened the door for software-defined services to run on general-purpose hardware.

Benefits of SDN

Significant reduction in capital expenses because VNFs can run on low-cost general-purpose hardware.

Operations and maintenance cost savings because fewer resources are required to operate and manage an agency’s SDN.

Cost-effective technology refresh since VNFs can be upgraded without replacing equipment.

Improved security posture enabled by built-in automated SDN security controls.

Ability to reserve network resources by leveraging SDN application programming interfaces.

Network services until recently relied heavily on special-purpose hardware such as routers, firewalls, and wide-area network accelerators (WANX). These devices used ASICs to process data to meet end-to-end network performance requirements. However, the growth of enterprise applications and the desire by end-users to access these applications from any device anywhere and anytime has resulted in significant increase in data traffic over government networks.

To support the ever-growing data needs of the end-users, agencies must enhance their network infrastructure. However, in the current environment of IT budget cuts procuring high-performance routers and firewalls are not feasible for many agencies. They must therefore explore other avenues to enhance their network infrastructure and capacity.

Software-defined networking offers a potential solution for agencies that are looking to modernize their network environment without incurring much capital investment. Leveraging the principles of compute and storage virtualization, SDN allows agencies to virtualize their network infrastructure and services. Similar to data center virtualization where applications run on virtual machines, SDN enables network services (routing, firewall and WANX) to run on virtual machines hosted on general-purpose hardware. It also enables service chaining -- a way to direct traffic flows through predefined network functions such as routers, firewalls and WANX -- to be configured on a per-packet flow basis.

SDN also improves agencies' security posture by implementing automated network security controls, which provides real-time threat detection and analysis.

By leveraging cloud computing resources, SDN allows agencies to centrally operate and manage virtual network functions running on the general-purpose hardware. Centralized operations and management ensures configurations and security policies are uniformly applied on all VNFs across the enterprise. Such standardization significantly improves configuration management and problem management, which ultimately results in cost savings for the agency.

About the Author

Vish Chanda is director of technology and strategy at AT&T

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