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Eric Krapf
Eric Krapf is General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect, the leading conference/exhibition and online events brand in the...
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Eric Krapf | February 21, 2014 |

 
   

SDN and Communications: A Great Match

SDN and Communications: A Great Match Microsoft shows some integrations based on its SDN API--even before the full-blown SDN architecture arrives.

Microsoft shows some integrations based on its SDN API--even before the full-blown SDN architecture arrives.

We post a fair amount of stuff here on No Jitter about Software Defined Networks (SDNs), even though it's still emerging as a technology, and even though its early days were dominated by talk of what SDN could do for datacenters and very large service provider networks. Much of what Terry Slattery's been posting has had to do with SDNs, and it's been a great introduction to the technology.

Communications people have started to catch onto SDN's potential, and Microsoft was first out of the gate, with a Lync API that can connect the communications servers with the controllers that are the brains of a two-layer SDN architecture (in which the lower layer are relatively dumb switches whose resource allocations are configured and reconfigured on the fly by the controller). The benefits of a real-time server being able to influence network resource allocation to ensure quality of service are pretty obvious.

Microsoft and HP have demonstrated this Lync-to-controller connection, but at the Lync Conference this week, two of the partners they highlighted were using that API not for overall SDN control, but for some specific, more narrow use cases. I chatted with Jamie Stark from the Lync team about these 2 partners: Aruba, which connects with the Lync API for resource allocation in wireless LANs; and Nectar, which uses the API data to inform its monitoring/management systems.

As Jamie explained it, Aruba uses the API to uniquely identify Lync media flows across an Aruba infrastructure. Normally that information would be hidden from the WLAN because all Lync traffic is encrypted; but the integration allows the Aruba infrastructure to be "enlightened with the information that comes from the API," and so give the Lync traffic appropriate handling. Similarly, the Lync API informs Nectar of media flows, and Nectar can correlate events for troubleshooting.

This eventually fits into the grand scheme of SDN "orchestration," which describes the systems by which SDN controllers will talk to all the elements of an infrastructure, not just the lower-layer switches, Jamie said.

The bigger picture for SDNs and communications obviously goes beyond Lync. Other vendors in the industry haven't been as quick to embrace SDN integration, probably because it's been seen as so high-end and futuristic. But ideally, when SDN is more commonly deployed and standards are in place, an SDN controller should be able to talk to any communications server. Meanwhile, these integrations that Microsoft is showing with piece-parts like Aruba and Nectar shows that SDN concepts may have some utility in more point-solutions even before the complete SDN architecture is in place.

Our own friendly neighborhood SDN expert, Terry Slattery, is chairing a three-hour workshop at Enterprise Connect, entitled Powering Enterprise Communications with Software-Defined Networks. Terry will bring his deep knowlege of networks, current and future, and his expertise in SDN, to an important session that will be a must-attend for those of you whose enterprises have an SDN roadmap--or will have one soon.

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