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What is Software-Defined Networking?

What are the key components of a software-defined network? How can software-defined networking benefit your organization?

Understanding Software-Defined Networking

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) facilitates network management and enables efficient network configuration to improve network performance and monitoring. It is an approach to cloud computing that allows network engineers and administrators to respond quickly and efficiently to changing business requirements via a centralized control console. 

SDN is an architecture that allows networks to become agile and flexible by encompassing multiple kinds of network technologies. It can support the virtualized server and storage infrastructure of the modern data center. SDN is especially useful for businesses that are trying to move into a virtual environment. As you learn about how SDN works and the technical and business benefits that it provides, take a moment to think about how it can be incorporated into your business. Do you need to pivot often to meet changing business needs? Are current network protocols slowing down your ability to adapt? 

What is Software Defined Networking?

SDN's basic intent is to separate the control and data planes to allow for a data center network that is better aligned with the needs of application workloads. SDN offers an approach to designing, building and managing networks that separates the network's control and forwarding planes, which allows for direct programmability of the network control and allows the underlying infrastructure to be abstracted for applications and network services.

What are the Key Components of SDNs?

There are several parts to SDN to centralize control of the network by separating the control logic to off-device computer resources. All software-defined network solutions have some version of an SDN Controller, as well as southbound APIs and northbound APIs:


SDN Controllers are considered the "brains" of the network that offer a centralized view of the overall network and enable network administrators to tell the underlying systems how the forwarding plane should handle network traffic. Network intelligence is logically centralized through programmable SDN controllers, which maintain a coherent view of the network domain and are implemented in software. Therefore, SDN looks like a single logical switch to applications and policy engines.

Southbound APIs

Southbound APIs relay information to the underlying systems, such as switches and routers that are "below." One of the most common protocols is OpenFlow, which is considered the first standard in SDN. OpenFlow and SDN are not the same thing — OpenFlow is a piece of the bigger SDN puzzle. 

Northbound APIs

Northbound APIs communicate with the applications and business logic "above." These help network administrators to programmatically shape traffic and deploy services.

What Can SDN Do For Your Business?

SDN offers a number of technical and business benefits to organizations looking to create a centralized, programmable network that can address their changing needs. SDN solutions can:

  • Simplify operations by reducing complexity through the decoupling of the control and data planes, making automation highly secure and scalable
  • Build programmable networks and eliminate manual configuration, which allows for easy provisioning and management of data centers, campuses and wide-area networks.
  • Deploy applications and services faster by leveraging open APIs and integrating third-party products
  • Lay the foundation that organizations need to transform themselves by centralizing configuration, management, control, monitoring, delivery and automation
  • Be programmatically configured by proprietary or open source automation tools since the control functions are decoupled from the forwarding functions
  • Reduce the need to purchase purpose-built, ASIC-based networking hardware
  • Increase reliability by automating provisioning, reducing overall management time and the chance for human error
  • Deliver agility and flexibility to allow businesses to meet changing goals and objectives
  • Rapidly deploy new applications, services and infrastructure
  • Enable innovation

SDN has the potential to revolutionize legacy data centers because they offer a flexible way to control the network, allowing it to function more like the virtualized versions of compute and storage today. With social media, cloud computing and mobile devices pushing traditional networks to their limits, SDN offers a new avenue that doesn't have the rigidity and slowness of manual network operations. 

There are many reasons and benefits as to why your business should move into SDN and a virtual environment. Whether you are a carrier or service provider, a cloud computer or data center, an enterprise campus or other business, you can benefit from the decoupling provided by SDN and the network agility that comes with it.

Interested in software-defined networking?

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