Jan 09 2020

5 Things to Know About Software-Defined Networking

With centralized control and greater visibility, the technology can benefit busy healthcare organizations.

With a centralized dashboard that allows administrators to prioritize and provision applications and data packets on a network, software-defined networking (SDN) can provide healthcare organizations some much-needed simplicity

Deploying SDN recently helped Proliance Surgeons — a Seattle-based, physician-owned specialty surgery group — to gain greater visibility and control of more than 100 clinics and ambulatory surgery centers. The scalability of SDN also allows the growing business to anticipate future needs.

Still, implementation of SDN requires stakeholder planning and a thorough understanding of the technology. Here’s what to know when exploring a rollout:

1. What Is Software-Defined Networking?

SDN is a strictly defined concept, separating the job of switching packets (the data plane) from the decision-making on how to switch them (the control plane). SDN is different from traditional routing protocols, like Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), which have the goal of discovering the fastest and most efficient path through the network. 

Instead, with SDN, the idea is to mix in all sorts of other factors that are hard or impossible to express in normal network routing protocols. For example, you may want to route traffic over a particular path because it’s less expensive or more secure or has more capacity. That can be hard to express with traditional routing; with SDN, these things happen more naturally.

2. Are SDN and Network Function Virtualization the Same Thing?

No. SDN is all about redesigning data center networks. Network function virtualization is about moving “middleware,” such as firewalls, network address translation and load balancers, into your virtualization environment without using traditional specialized hardware. Virtualizing these middleware functions can be simpler in a data center that has SDN, but they are different and independent concepts.

READ MORE: Discover how implementing SDN can help your business today.

3. Where Does SDN Fit in My Healthcare Network?

The most advanced SDN products are designed for data centers and have very complex healthcare applications in them. When an application is a mass of dozens of moving parts that must be tightly and securely connected, SDNs can create the optimized paths and security separations that are hard to build manually using traditional virtual LANs, dynamic routing and switching. 

4. If My Applications Are in the Cloud, Should I Be Investigating SDN?

As a data center technology, SDN isn’t going to be that interesting if you’re shutting down or seriously downsizing your data center LAN. Your cloud service provider may be using SDN products but that should be invisible to you.

5. Can I Use SDN in My WAN?

The SDN products being introduced for branch office WANs, such as those in labs and clinician offices, are a different kind of SDN — more like second-generation WAN optimization. Software-defined WAN can build more reliable, faster and cost-effective networks on top of different WAN technologies. 

SD-WAN is much more application-aware, and it makes routing decisions based on applications, user load, congestion, link cost and much more. It isn’t the same SDN as you’d find in a data center but has the same central idea of increasing the intelligence of the control plane.

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