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What is Software-Defined Networking?

I’ve you’ve been following the IT industry as of late, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “software-defined networking.” More than just a buzzword, the phrase software-defined networking actually refers to the process of separating system resources as a means of simplifying day-to-day networking operations.

Software-Defined Networking in a Nutshell

Network services of today typically rely on an advanced system consisting of a control plane, which handles the flow of network traffic to its destination within the data plane. In order for this to happen, the different planes must be able to communicate with one another. While this can be done through a variety of means, it is typically achieved through the OpenFlow protocol.

The OpenFlow Communications Protocol

Originally introduced in February 2011, the OpenFlow communications protocol is promoted and oversaw by the Open Networking Foundation, or ONF. As such, they’ve been able to established OpenFlow as a standardized mechanism for maintaining contact between the control and data planes.

According to the Open Networking Foundation, software-defined networking architecture is: “directly programmable, agile, centrally managed, programmatically configured and open standards-based as well as vendor-neutral.”

A statement from Cirba, Inc., one of the world’s leading providers of software-defined infrastructure, agrees with the ONF’s definition of software-defined networking. As they stated in a recent press release: “Most organizations are interested in SDN for the increased agility, provisioning speed and security it delivers. At the same time, however, it also puts greater pressure on the decision of where to place VMs within an environment. SDN abstracts the physical network layer and allows groups of VMs to be configured to “think” they are on the same network segment, even if they are not. This means that a VM is no longer physically limited to residing on servers that are connected to a particular physical network, and can reside on any server within a broader mobility domain. This creates far more options as to which servers can host a particular workload, and this new found freedom presents both opportunities and challenges in VM placement.”

Numerous companies have already expressed their support for OpenFlow by releasing products that are compatible with the protocol. A shortlist of names includes IBM, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Dell, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Networks, Brocade Communications, MikroTik, Huawei, Pica8 and more.

The Need for A New Network Architecture

Many in the IT industry are hoping that software-defined networking is able to fill the recent need for a new kind of network architecture. The ONF’s website cites no less than seven recent trends that have led to this need, including evolving patterns in network traffic, the “consumerization of IT,” the recent popularity of cloud services, increasing amounts of big data, network complexity, the inability to properly scale networks as needed and vendor dependence.

For more information on the current state of software-defined networking, please visit the Open Networking Foundation’s official website at Here you’ll be able to interact with others in the community, attain technical certifications, read recent news and access a plethora of online resources.


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