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SDN and cloud computing: Working in unison

SDN and cloud computing: Working in unison

David Linthicum

by David Linthicum

Software-defined networking and cloud computing complement each other and enable new visibility and control of networks.

Software-defined networks have been around for years, but their role in the cloud is just now being defined.

Software-defined networks (SDNs) enable network changes to be made through software code rather than hardware and one-off scripts. SDNs can be changed quickly and en masse, without have to reconfigure each hardware device individually. Because these networks are programmable through software, they are more flexible, agile and changeable, they mesh well with cloud architecture. As a result, SDNs have become integral to cloud-based IT infrastructure.

SDNs became even more valuable, though, when it became possible to integrate that architecture easily with cloud-based environments. Today, SDN architecture can better understand the cloud environment it operates in, and vice-versa. That enables new kinds of flexibility, speed, and innovation. Because software-defined networks enable greater automation of network functionality, they can speed network provisioning, reduce human error.

SDN is cloud evolved

So what’s changed to make software-defined networks more integrated with public clouds? Today, SDNs are aware of public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), and vice versa. IT managers can now take Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) from a traditional data center to the public cloud, especially Amazon Web Services. This means that those who manage software-defined networks can manage their private cloud-based SDN and a public cloud-based SDN together, from one console and from one view.  

This architecture is typically SDN-centered: The SDN provider, not the cloud provider, controls the relationship. In this case, ACI integrates its controller with an application programming interface (API) from a public cloud provider, such as Microsoft, Google, or Amazon. In turn, they work toward a time when the public cloud provider themselves can reach back to the SDN using ACI APIs.

The significance here is that there is greater transparency between the SDN and the public cloud, and now that they are aware of each other, they can work together.

But, work on what? It’s no secret that, if a network is configured and tuned for a specific type of workload, it will run faster and more efficiently. The trouble is that, if done for one workload, the other won’t run as well on the same configuration. Enter the value of SDN and the ability to do network as code.

Both enterprises and public cloud providers leverage SDNs these days because applications can self-define the network requirements directly from the application itself. Thus, the network can support hundreds of configurations and be optimized for specific workloads 100% of the time.

If you think this is a tremendous advantage, you’re right. Now, with the integration of public cloud services, we have a new array of opportunities for SDNs. Indeed, public clouds are evolving to have better visibility and control with the on-premises networks, as well as SDNs having awareness of what’s going on with the public cloud.

This means a few things.

First, we can see what’s running on a cloud, and what the SDN needs to be modified to accommodate that workload. This means that the network will be automatically configured for the workload running on the cloud that must leverage the internal SDN to access data and talk to users and other on-premises applications.

Second, the cloud can see what’s running on-premises and adjust the SDN from the cloud. The idea is that there is little separation between an SDN that exists in the public cloud, and an SDN that exists on-premises. All work together to make an optimized network for the running workloads that dynamically changes as the applications change, and thus the requirements on the networks.

What about the future?

The future of software-defined networking and cloud computing is pretty easy to define. We will likely see the following:

  1. Integration between enterprise SDNs and clouds continuous to deepen. Keep in mind that cloud providers have an interest in your using their platforms, and the deeper they go into your infrastructure, the more integrated—and thus stickier—that platform is to your enterprise. You can count on many new cloud services and improvements to existing services that talk about coordination between software-defined networking and clouds. This relationship also has the potential to improve security and provide safeguards against outages.
  2. Integrated network monitoring and management. Today, you’re likely using one dashboard to monitor events in the public cloud, and another dashboard for the on-premises systems and network. Since the integration has been happening between public cloud and on-premises networks, the likelihood that third parties will provide integrated network monitoring, analytics, and reactive problem solving is high.
  3. Machine learning enablement. When it comes to dealing with systems that change a great deal and learning better approaches to best manage those systems, machine learning is changing the game. Machine learning can be exploited to find optimal network configurations, which could save those who do network-as-code from finding things out via trial and error. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to mature, you’ll see self-monitoring, self-healing and self-repairing capabilities continue to evolve.

If you look at where we are now versus where we were five years ago, you can see the true potential for SDNs and integration with public clouds.

While networks have been a largely consistent expense, with little defined return, now they are smart things that can provide benefits to an application workload that goes right to the bottom line.

For more Cisco News:

Networking programmability brings new business efficiencies

Could networking automation tools fix shadow IT?

Upgrading networking architecture brings business benefits

Benefits of software-defined networking

For more Cisco resources:

Cisco intent-based networking

DevNet DNA Developer Center

Cisco Webex Teams

Cisco security portfolio

David Linthicum

David Linthicum is the chief cloud strategy consultant and a longtime contributor to a variety of technology publications.