Unified visibility is needed for the dynamic infrastructure of today, the SDNs of tomorrow

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

The promise of software defined networking (SDN) is to deliver centralized and programmable traffic engineering. However, one of the obstacles standing in the way of mass SDN deployment is visibility.  Questions persist about how organizations will monitor these dynamic data networks.

These agile and diverse networks, after all, could be comprised of mixed network architectures and topologies, contain non-interoperable "islands" of SDN stemming from varying implementations of OpenFlow standards, and have applications residing on multi-tenant servers. Yet this doesn't mean that we can't look to an SDN approach and use it as a model for a unified monitoring fabric.

However, so far, current solutions do not address the new monitoring complexities that have evolved and will continue to worsen with SDN. Effective ways to manage and provision monitored network traffic pervasively across different topologies remains elusive. Let's take a look at the three main reasons why current propositions aren't suited to solve the problem of monitoring the SDN production network and why a unified monitoring fabric is required.

First, there may be value in the coexistence of both centralized architectures and the distributed network protocols of today. SDN may not be right for every organization. Plus, it is highly unlikely that any organization will "forklift" their entire network infrastructure for SDN-enabled technology. This will result in mixed topologies and there is no method that exists today to achieve pervasive traffic visibility across physical networks, virtual networks and hybrid networks that contain traditional network topologies and SDN.

Second, depending on the deployment use case, a different SDN solution may be deployed for each scenario. For example, a network virtualization application may deploy a specific controller and switch eco-system.  A traffic engineering solution may require a different controller and switch eco-system. This is largely due to the lack of northbound APIs which results in applications being tied to a controller-switch ecosystem today.

The result is islands of SDN that are best suited to specific problem areas.  However, there still needs to be a consistent way to monitor, troubleshoot and manage these SDN islands and optimally deliver monitored traffic to the tools that serve as the dashboard for the network, security and applications teams.

Finally, every IT department needs access to different slices of the monitored data to ensure that network and application SLAs are met, compliance and security policies are in place, and to safeguard business continuity. A unified monitoring fabric with centralized access is required to assure independence and segregation of monitored data delivered to multiple organizations and tools.

But, perhaps most importantly, the monitoring fabric must be conducive to programmability, automation and integration with monitoring tools. In order to attain this, an open platform built with APIs should allow applications, whether inherent or developed by third-party software developers, to orchestrate the monitoring policies of the organization within the fabric.

For hosting organizations, a unified monitoring fabric enables the possibility to orchestrate Visibility as a Service for customers.  The ability to turn up new monitoring services dynamically without manual intervention helps minimize reactive management of the infrastructure and move toward more proactive management.

When you taken into account all of these requirements, it is clear it will take centralized management, an open framework for automation and programmability, and targeted applications to provide just-in-time responsiveness to real-time events that occur within the network. Networks are already dynamic enough with virtualization, application and device mobility, and cloud deployments; SDN will only add to the problems associated with monitoring. Therefore, a monitoring fabric that's just as dynamic is required to maintain visibility.

The architecture required to build that agility looks a lot like SDN, but constructed for the tools; a unified monitoring fabric for software-defined monitoring. 

The deployment of a unified monitoring fabric should ease concerns regarding the adoption of SDNs in production networks by alleviating the monitoring headache. It should deliver pervasive visibility into software-defined networks, physical networks, and virtual networks. Pervasive visibility is essential as it enables the unification of data visibility across network architectures and topologies, including virtual networks, resulting in a safe deployment within a multi-tenant setting and ultimately ensuring that SDN becomes a reality and delivers on its promise.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

This story, "Unified visibility is needed for the dynamic infrastructure of today, the SDNs of tomorrow" was originally published by Network World.

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