SDN secrets of Amazon and Google

The agility potential of SDN has generated excitement -- but also confusion. Juniper Networks' Chloe Ma unpacks the SDN benefits and techniques used by the world's largest clouds

Those seriously considering SDN (software-defined networking) must continually adjust to the new definitions, technologies, and possibilities presented by this fundamental shift in networking technology. Everyone would like a clearer view of where SDN is heading -- so why not examine what the early adopters are doing, many of them with the largest infrastructures around?

In this week's New Tech Forum, Chloe Ma, director at Juniper Networks, takes us on a tour of how massive-scale service providers are using SDN, all the way from Amazon Web Services to Google's software-defined WAN technologies. --Paul Venezia

What enterprises can learn about SDN from providers
For the last year or so, SDN has been the buzz of the networking world, and for good reason: SDN is transforming the industry. As with any emerging technology, there's room for debate. There have been lively disputes over SDN's definition, emerging protocols, the viability of various vendor approaches, and so on.

One thing has remained constant: The need for enterprises to build an elastic infrastructure that empowers today's dynamic business applications. Leading cloud providers, such as Google and Amazon, are on the forefront of this trend, using SDN to efficiently build private, public, and hybrid clouds to increase application-deployment agility and better respond to business needs.

These early adopters lead the movement toward dynamic applications in large-scale, multi-tenanted environments. Many started their SDN journeys either by assembling or developing in-house technologies that can orchestrate and automate not only compute and storage resources, but also networking resources to enable application control of infrastructure or ITaaS (IT as a service). Today's enterprises can learn much from Web 2.0 companies' early experiences with SDN and cloud environments, including three key technological advancements that will enable them to achieve business agility while maintaining security and regulatory compliance.

IT as a service
Enterprises are under increasing pressure to develop and deploy dynamic applications to generate new revenue streams and respond to changing business climates. This need shows up in two distinct ways: The first is the scale of the application, which can expand and shrink significantly based on application workloads. The second occurs during the continued development of an application, wherein enterprises need to add new features quickly and push updates to meet a rapid pace of innovation and avoid falling behind.

The traditional operational model of filing a support ticket and waiting weeks to get the resources needed to run an application is a roadblock to business agility. To get around this problem, LOB (line of business) managers and others inside the enterprise turn to alternatives like AWS, where they can provision resources instantly with a swipe of a credit card.

Enterprise IT can learn from the model offered by AWS and others -- and transform itself from a cost center to a business enabler by supporting ITaaS operational models. To do that effectively over the long haul, however, the infrastructure must include SDN capabilities.

One of the advantages of AWS is the ability to massively scale EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) with nearly hands-free automation. Although Amazon has always been very private about how it does this, popular belief is that the company's substantially customized version of the Xen Project hypervisor likely has implemented a form of SDN for quite some time. Capabilities like AWS CloudFormation, security zones, Elastic Load Balancing, and others have clearly shown that much of what used to be implemented via network hardware is now implemented through a software stack. With its VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) offering, AWS has provided strong network isolation, including overlapping IP ranges, which are implemented with a software overlay on top of a networking hardware stack. There's little argument that this has been a huge differentiator for AWS, enabling not only massive scale but also a steady stream of price cuts for customers.

The key lesson is there can't be true ITaaS without SDN. All resources, including compute, storage, networking, and security services, must be abstracted and treated as a pool of resources. The different sets of virtualized resources and test-and-verified building blocks can be combined, deployed, programmed, and monitored by the applications that are using them. This allows enterprise users to quickly access the resources they need to run applications or perform other business tasks, with the security and isolation their companies demand.

SDN service chaining
Once organizations adopt ITaaS or cloud models, they inevitably need to support dynamic creation, insertion, and scaling of network and security services. For example, in a private cloud environment, employees can spin up virtual machines to run their multi-tier applications -- and they need load-balancing or firewall services between the different tiers. This approach makes sense only when the infrastructure can automate the orchestration of services along with other resources.

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