Since the introduction of software-defined networking (SDN) in 2011, the spread of SDN has been somewhat slow. That is, until recently when cloud architectures have become industry-dominant, and businesses look for opportunities to reduce the complexities that accompany a diverse cloud stack. The SDN market has been rising rapidly along with cloud adoption. In fact, Global Marketing Insights predicts that SDN networking will be an $88 billion industry by 2024.
For organizations in hyper-sensitive business avenues, like finance, banking, security, and government to name a few, making the switch may leave your entire network more secure and stabilized. At the same time, those firms who manage a complex array of apps may find SDN networking is more accessible and more easily managed.
Let's break down what software-defined networking is, and talk about what security advantages it offers. Next, we will discuss some potential benefits and weaknesses that are packaged within this new networking technology.
Software-Defined Network vs. Traditional Network
In traditional networking models, devices make package and traffic decisions via a unique routing table. So, each network device acts as an individual agent capable of commanding its own communication with networking applications.
A software-defined network, on the other hand, uses an SDN controller to manage interactions between applications and network devices, which means that all devices are contained in a centralized hub and communications between network devices and network applications are processed abstractly.
This means that network engineers can manage the network via the SDN controller, without the need to access the individual networking devices. This process not only reduces human touch-points and redundancies, but it also frees up each networking device to be assessed and manipulated at a granular level.
In today's security ecosystem, cybersecurity elements are a mission-critical aspect of any businesses networking structure. This is especially true for companies such as banks, credit unions, credit companies, and the like.
There are multiple distinct benefits that SDNs provide these types of institutions that traditional networking simply cannot. At the same time, this relatively new networking space does have some drawbacks that are important to consider before making the switch.
- Granular Security: A primary advantage of SDN networking is greater visibility throughout the network. In traditional networking, any security that impacts traffic is overarching. With SDN, it's granular. This means that engineers can selectively block malicious traffic throughout your network on a granular basis. So, if any specific segments are misbehaving, you can deal with them accordingly. It's like having high-powered X-ray specs for your network. What used to take hours of manual pour- over can be achieved in mere moments with the added clarity that a singular centralized hub provides. Having issues with suspicious traffic coming from your bank's network? Quarantine the traffic to be reviewed later without disrupting your entire network. Is a malicious entity changing configurations within your network? Identify it immediately and shut it down. SDN networks give operators more power, control, flexibility and visibility.
- Updates: When critical security patches come through, manually configuring them on each device can be demanding, and potentially lead to mis-configurations or missed devices. Within the SDN controller, each device can be updated without the need to access the physical devices. This means that all updates can be spread accurately and rapidly throughout the network.
- Hardware Restrictions: The SD controller abstracts control over your entire network, which means that each device no longer has the authority to make package decisions. This process allows businesses greater control over their network without the need to work within the confines of proprietary hardware controls.
Of course, there are other benefits that arise out of SDN networking such as the use of SD-WAN to abstract network control virtually through a businesses WAN. But, these aren't directly SDN benefits — they are benefits that exist through the SDN networking technology. As with any business solution, one must weigh the benefits against any potential pitfalls.
- Single Attack Point: The most obvious security con with SDN networks is that attackers only have to access one node in your network — the SDN controller — to have control of your entire network security. This is why it's critical to choose a secure SDN network provider and use security elements that protect the SDN controller from outside threats. The SDN controller makes each device in the network more secure, but it makes your entire network weak to a single successful attack against that SDN controller.
- Vendors: Since there isn't a hyper-specific definition of an SDN network, many vendors package their solutions as SDN — when in reality they aren't. This has been an ongoing issue in the industry since SDN/OpenFlow's introduction into the market in 2011.
Outside of security, SDN networking has many benefits that can drastically shift the way that organizations handle their networking.
- Scope: Traditional networking requires significant people power and technical expertise spread throughout your network. Each hardware component must be maintained, and connections must be monitored broadly. A SDN network allows all of these hardware components to be managed via a single touchpoint.
- Mistakes: Since each networking hardware component requires separate handling, there's the potential that one critical mistake could bring down your entire network.
- Cloud Maneuverability: As enterprises continue to embrace cloud solutions — especially networking applications — managing all of these complex and diverse solutions becomes painful with a traditional networking configuration. SDN networking allows you to control these app flows from one centralized hub.
Software-defined networking is capable of abstracting the vast array of networking nodes into one convenient platform. This makes maintaining connections, delivering critical updates, and quarantining crucial security issues simple and effective. At the same time, SDN reduces touchpoints, introduces automation capabilities and helps remove mundane and repetitive tasks from the networking workflow.
For businesses, making the switch to an SDN network can introduce opportunity, cut costs, and simplify operations. As with any technology, it's essential to take adequate time to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. Not all SDN vendors deliver SDN products, and it's vital that you choose a vendor with an emphasis on security and effectiveness.
If your business is looking to make the switch to a faster, more connected networking solution, contact us.