Software Defined Networking (SDN) is an architecture that aims to make networks agile and flexible. The goal of SDN is to improve network control by enabling enterprises and service providers to respond quickly to changing business requirements. Industry pundits share insights with Intelligent CIO Africa how enterprises in Africa are deploying SDN to improve network management and end-to-end visibility.
Software Defined Networking (SDN) is the hottest thing going today, but there is considerable confusion surrounding everything from the definition of the term to the different architectures and technologies suppliers are putting forward.
Given the confusion, some IT shops are probably taking a wait-and-see attitude. But while that response would be understandable, it isn’t the right approach because, even though no reasonable person would claim to know how SDN and network virtualisation will evolve over the next several years, there is no doubt these emerging technologies will have a significant impact on businesses in Africa.
Software Defined Networking (SDN) is an architecture that aims to make networks agile and flexible. The goal of SDN is to improve network control by enabling enterprises and service providers to respond quickly to changing business requirements.
Industry reports expect growth of the global SDN market to exceed US$13.7 billion in 2020, expanding to more than US$32 billion within the next five years. What portion of that will be attributed to growth in Africa is still to be seen considering the close link between SDN and the adoption of cloud services.
Rudeon Snell, Global Senior Director: Industries and Customer Advisory, SAP, said although Africa has been lagging for a while, the continent is witnessing a greater shift towards cloud-based technology – something which may be accelerated even further by the COVID-19 pandemic and the imperative to conduct business remotely.
Wesley van Rayne, Principal Engineer, Redvine Networks, said if one looks at adoption of SDN as a solution for businesses across the continent, one is able to see a definite shift away from only early adopters, who have done the legwork in terms of testing, absorbing the risk and now being in a position to showcase the impact the technology has on their organisations.
Van Rayne said SDN has proven itself over the last three to four years and the market is seeing a move to early majority take-up across most, if not all industry sectors.
Snell said in a world where the proliferation of mobile technology has provided Internet connectivity to millions, networks are under increasing pressure from hundreds if not thousands of devices that are accessing them at any one time. “This also means that networks are not only growing larger, but they are becoming more complex and possibly more vulnerable to malicious intrusion.
The integrity of a network and its security systems is one of the most pressing challenges in a virtual environment,” he said. “Now that the network is essentially software-based, care must be taken to protect dynamic and evolving threat surfaces. It is important to embed a zero-trust security model into the architecture from day one, rather than bolting it on later.”
He added that by ensuring that SDN network security and application security measures are aligned to integrate seamlessly, security headaches can be alleviated significantly.
“We believe it is selecting the correct, or most appropriate technology for the business’ needs and understanding that SDN can accommodate their specific business, as opposed to shoehorning the business into the old networks that lacked the kind of tailoring and customisation that makes SDN a fit-for-purpose solution,” said Van Rayne. “As a first step, this is largely a change in mindset. Once CIOs have clarity on what is available and an understanding of what is possible, they can leverage these to architect and modernise their networks with greater ease.”
Despite the caution that CIOs and IT teams take when deploying SDN, they still face challenges. According to Snell, It’s important to guide CIO’s so that they can avoid pitfalls before moving forward with implementation, and they can do this by asking three areas namely: Are current network function capabilities built into the SDN technology? Are they extensible, will the SDN technology help solve for the unknown and Can the solution support exponential thinking?
He explained that common networking technologies may be virtualised today and are highly effective. “However, the benefit of SDN is that it allows you to future-proof your infrastructure. You should plan on investing in solutions that are built to accommodate future needs. Look for extensible technology that allows you to add functionality as your deployment matures and your requirements change,” he said. “You don’t want to replace one set of limited capabilities with another. Think about where your business is heading, and which changes may happen in the future. Look for SDN solutions that will allow you to add the types of services that you may not necessarily need today.”
Snell explained that with SDN, there is great opportunity for innovation. “Think about how SDN can help you write applications differently. How could your business benefit if the application could speak to or respond to the network directly,” he asked? “What if you could rapidly create or change services based on market demand? This is the kind of innovation that can help your company differentiate itself from the competition. It will also better prepare you to respond quickly to potential interruptions to Business Continuity.”
Van Rayne said there are a number of pitfalls that CIOs and IT teams face when implementing SDN, but one of the biggest (and possibly the root cause of some of the others) is trying to retrofit traditional architecture on to the new technology, instead of fully understanding the capabilities of SDN. “There is an immense amount of flexibility and agility that SDN brings to the table and if CIOs and IT teams have a clear view of that the other pitfalls are significantly minimised,” he said.
Walid Yehia, Sr. Director, Presales – Dell Technologies, Middle East, Russia, Africa and Turkey (MERAT), said the premise is simple: Digital Transformation starts with IT transformation, which requires customers to modernise their data centres with infrastructure designed to simplify their data landscape, optimise workloads at any scale and secure an organisation’s most valuable asset – data.
As a result, Yehia said organisations that are looking to increase competitiveness by maximising the value of data, must update their storage infrastructure to create business opportunities.
“In data storage – which touches every IT-driven business – the pace of innovation is accelerating, yet most enterprises continue to struggle with data’s explosive growth and velocity,” he noted. “Getting the highest use and value from their data is becoming ever more critical for organisations, especially for those with data stores reaching exabyte scale. So, this brings us to the real question. What are some of the enterprise data storage practices that would help unlock the real value of data capital?”
Firstly, said Yehia, it is important for organisations to refresh their storage hardware on a regular basis and keep up with the increased data demands by eliminating aging infrastructure that is more susceptible to failures that cause outages or downtime. “Modern storage infrastructure can also reduce the data silos and the struggle to manage messy data. It also frequently includes advanced data protection features that help ensure the on-premises data remains safe and secure. Data encryption adds an additional layer of protection to this, improving data security and mitigating the potential for data loss,” he said. “Second, as we look at technology requirements today and beyond 2020, one thing is clear. Storage will be architected and consumed as Software Defined and the lines between storage and compute will continue to blur as organisations demand unparalleled agility and simplicity for business-critical IT infrastructure to respond effectively to rapidly changing market dynamics.”
He said some of Dell’s customers are telling the company they are looking for more flexibility in their traditional storage area networks (SANs), wishing to have compute as close to storage as possible to support data-centric workloads and to reduce operational complexity. “This is because Software Defined approaches combine industry-standard hardware components and protocols with software to pool and manage resources within modern data centres,” he said. “And for organisations that require the flexibility of rapidly scaling storage and compute independently of each other or need to consolidate multiple high performance or general workloads, Software Defined infrastructure (SDI) becomes a viable alternative to traditional SANs and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) for certain workloads.”
Van Rayne said vendors like VMWare Velocloud for enterprise customers with multiple branches both in metropolitan and remote areas are driving significant SDN adoption across the continent. “In the six years since we started working with VMWare Velocloud, we have deployed SDN to more than 39 countries, helping companies and partners across multiple industries including mining, agriculture, logistics and retail to save costs, drive better network visibility and seamless link remediation and prioritised data management,” he said.
Impact of 5G
Aside from the challenges that CIOs face, industry experts point to 5G and the impact it will have on SDN and that CIOs will need to rearchitect their existing enterprise networks.
Snell pointed out that 5G networking technology is intrinsically connected with SDN technology. “With a high-speed 5G enabled SDN network, the computing environment becomes more flexible and agile, allowing IT to rapidly implement changes that support the business in a very cost-effective manner.
Combining 5G with a mobile edge compute (MEC) platform takes SDN technology to the next level,” he said. “MEC combines an ultrawideband network with cloud services to allow enterprises to develop large-scale, latency- sensitive applications at the Edge. It also puts compute power closer to the end-user and allows applications to respond much more quickly, often in near-real time.”
He added that in a mature SDN environment where automation is deployed, SDN technology running on 5G and MEC can help CIOs make decisions quickly.
Van Rayne said aside from the flexibility, scalability and transparency of networks that SDN delivers to CIOs, it is increasingly important for enabling greater mobility and remote working, coupled with enterprise-grade security at lower infrastructure costs over the medium term.
“A consequence of the pandemic and rapid move to remote work has meant organisations are looking for more scalable, cost effective and reliable ways to enable their employees to have VPN-like access to their networks and SDN meets this need. We are seeing a growing trend towards leveraging the agility of SDN to create temporary or pop up sites that can be set up quickly and moved as and when needed,” he said. “Flexibility, mobility, visibility and agility are no longer just industry buzzwords and organisations across the continent are starting to see these as tangible benefits of SDN.”
Snell noted that mobile phone penetration across Africa is currently patchy, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where the average mobile Internet connectivity sits below 25 percent. “Yet, there are some countries where accessibility and mobile penetration is higher, notably Kenya (83%) and Nigeria where mobile broadband penetration is expected to rise to 55% by 2025. In South Africa, smartphone penetration sits at more than 80%,” he said. “South Africa currently leads the sub-Saharan continent in terms of 4G penetration (18%), with Nigeria only expected to reach that number in 4 years’ time in 2025, although planning to roll out a 5G network this year.”
He said the access to broadband Internet access at high speeds is probably the greatest barrier for successful SDN networks in Africa now.
With SDN use cases increasing across the continent, it’s only a matter of time before Africa sees enterprise-wide adoption and success in SDN. Snell said picture a manufacturing company that employs cognitive video of the shop floor. “SDN allows operators to see a product defect and act quickly – such as shutting down an assembly line. The elastic environment includes automation that reacts to environmental changes and makes decisions, with learning capabilities that change the application or fix whatever is brokenClick below to share this article