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Software-Defined Networking: A Path to Self-Aware UC&C Infrastructure

There are many benefits to SDN with UC&C platforms, but a number of roadblocks will likely slow adoption of an SDN solution in the enterprise access layer.

My colleague Michael Brandenburg recently published a market insight on software-defined networking as it relates to unified communications and collaboration. As Mike notes, ever since private branch exchange (PBX) systems moved from dedicated wiring to reside on the enterprise Internet Protocol (IP) network, there has been an uneasy truce between unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) platforms and their host networks. Bandwidth-intensive applications like IP telephony, web conferencing and, especially, video collaboration can severely clog networks if they aren't properly architected for the new technology. At the same time, virtualization on data center servers and user desktops is accelerating the rate of change and is making once-static infrastructures extremely dynamic and distributed.

To ensure performance, network administrators have traditionally dealt with the problem by continually updating their network policies to ensure that the appropriate resources are given to UC&C platforms without impacting the other mission-critical business applications. But a software-defined network (SDN) fundamentally changes how enterprise networks operate, both in enterprise data centers and eventually throughout the campus network.

The premise of SDN is simple: separating the data plane (the parts of the network switch that move packets from point A to point B ) from the control plane (the supervisory components that define the makeup of that network). In software-defined networks, the data plane becomes subservient not to its on-board supervisor, but to an external controller application running on physical or virtual servers.

Done right, software-defined networks make a lot of sense, because the controller server is not bound to a single network switch to supervise, yet it can deliver command and control capabilities across every network switch in the enterprise. The architecture can be significantly less costly than paying for redundant hardware supervisors in every single network switch, and because it is driven by software, all of the network designs and configurations can be changed instantly and dynamically, with or without human intervention.

But while there are many benefits to SDN with UC&C platforms, a number of roadblocks exists that will likely slow adoption of an SDN solution in the enterprise access layer. Among the biggest are the lack of ratified standards and the prevalence of technology diversity in UC&C platforms and campus networks. While neither of these challenges is insurmountable, achieving a truly self-aware campus network to support an optimized UC&C infrastructure will likely be an ongoing and extended process. Success in the UC&C market will certainly favor vendors that already offer end-to-end infrastructure solutions.

Clients can download Mike's full report at

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