Application-defined Networking

Part 1: Definition

The emergence of “Software Defined Networking (SDN)” triggers a critical paradigm shift in networking: SDN facilitates network virtualization as never before and delivers great benefits to users.

However, such benefits over traditional approaches to networking can be fully leveraged only if tangible results for end users are the main focus. Additionally these results must be obtained effortlessly while ensuring maximum reliability, scalability and efficiency.

For this to happen, it is critical to establish close linkage of the application with the underlying dynamic infrastructure in the cloud, including systems as well as networks … with a clear focus on the application.

Consequently we now start to see a new Networking paradigm defined by Applications that are taking the center stage. This new trend is all the more important as enterprises are increasingly migrating their applications to the cloud. The ability for enterprises to manage their networks while ensuring application delivery across a hybrid cloud infrastructure is the new challenge.

Application Defined Networking (ADN) is all about applications directly controlling and adapting the networking environment using API’s, so that application delivery and performance across public and private cloud networks are optimized without compromising on portability or security.

SDN-enabled network virtualization is the requirement for ADN to work as its offers the means to orchestrate the underlying networking infrastructure in the clouds. But what is fundamental in this disruptive cloud era is that from software … to applications … to networks … the Holy Grail of IT vendors seem to revolve around ‘definition ‘. Ubiquitously used today, this term heralds disruptive changes. In expressions such as ‘Software-defined Networks’, ‘Software-defined Data Center’ or ‘Application-Defined Networking’, the term ‘Definition’ is the new buzzword.

While everybody more or less understands what software and network are, the meaning of “defined” is far hazier. What does ‘defining a network’ entail? Well, let’s start from the definition of ‘definition’… A definition is the formal statement of the meaning of a word. A definition includes an operative part, a function. In many cases the function of term defined constitutes its meaning. For example, the function of a toaster is its meaning. A toaster has no meaning outside its function.

In reference to our discussion, here are the questions to be answered to understand why and how Applications could define a Network:

— What is the ‘meaning’ – function or use – of a network?
— What is the ‘function’ of a network defined by software?
— What can be performed using such flexible dedicated networks?
— How are these new flexible networks really different from current static networks?
— Why do we need this flexibility? Why now?
— Which entity is going to ‘formulate’ this definition and customize the function?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is the application that needs to be the ‘defining ‘entity. Binding applications with SDN when and if possible, could allow them to define their network.

In this ADN-related series of blogs, I will try to answer these questions. My goal is to explain how the journey from SDN to SDN-based Applications leads to ADN. We will discuss why and how making Applications ‘define their Networks’ is key for true scalable, flexible, agile and automated environments adapted to the needs of small and large businesses.

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Posted by Pascale Vicat-Blanc on September 18, 2012