The technology industry is forever in search of the Next Big Thing. Software-defined networking (SDN) might not hold the mass appeal of, say, Apple’s iPad, but SDN’s buzz has grown rapidly of late.


Let’s get up to speed with a fast look at what SDN is and how it might benefit your organization.


So, What the Heck is SDN?


Let’s borrow the Open Networking Foundation’s definition: SDN is ” the physical separation of the network control plane from the forwarding plane, and where a control plane controls several devices.” The group’s definition includes a deeper technical dive; Open Networking Foundation also offers a useful whitepaper on SDN.


The idea behind SDN, loosely translated into mainstream terms, is that the old-school way of networking no longer meets the needs of modern applications, bandwidth consumption, device diversity and so forth. SDN proponents hail it as a more flexible approach to areas such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments, large corporate and university campus networks, data centers, and service provider networks.


What are the Potential Advantages?


Research firm Gartner recently noted that while much of the early interest in SDN has focused on data centers and service provider networks, the technology remains quite young and there are in fact a broader set of possible uses. While the realization of some of those use cases remains to be determined, here are two examples of how SDN could benefit businesses.


1. Dealing with Exponential Data Growth


The Open Networking Foundation lists four key technology trends underlying the need for SDN — network traffic pattern changes, BYOD, cloud, and big data. All four can be boiled down to one fundamental of the digital age: We’re data gluttons. We consume and produce tons of data on our phones, our tablets, our PCs, and any other connected devices — and all of it has to travel across networks. The flexibility enabled by SDN, according to the Open Networking Foundation, is better-suited for businesses that must manage growing and sometimes unpredictable demands on their data centers and networks.


2. Managing Branch Office Networks


The widespread availability and adoption of mobile and cloud technologies has made it easier than ever for employees to work from a virtual office anywhere, at any time. That, in turn, has made it easier for organizations to open branch offices or hire remote workers. That comes with a less-visible set of headaches, though, notes a Cisco whitepaper: Branch office networks built on legacy technologies are often inefficient from productivity and cost perspectives, particularly when delivering applications online. As network operators shift to a “network-aware” application approach with SDN, this waste can be largely reduced.


“Wide area networking needs to be more flexible so that IT leaders can easily move, change or expand availability of their application portfolio mix as business requires,” writes whitepaper author Nick Lippis. “The corporate WAN can deliver optimal performance to assure businesses stay productive without excessive capital, operational and WAN bandwidth costs by enabling applications with network information to best utilize its services.”