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  • 7 May 2015 09:22

Converged infrastructures vs SDN: integrate or disaggregate?

Extreme Networks expains the options

By Wilson Lai, Technical Director, Asia-Pacific and Japan, Extreme Networks

Static architectures are ill-suited for today’s highly mobile and virtualised environments. The proliferation of data and growing number of devices requiring network support requires networking to be agile, so organisations will be looking to leverage network infrastructure agility to deliver rapid responses that support business growth.

Network agility allows applications and services to be added, removed or adjusted promptly. Yet, organisations are faced with the inherent decision of determining what should be outsourced and what should be insourced. Although costs will be an underlying factor, the need to identify investment into parts of the infrastructure that are strategic to the business while outsourcing the rest, will be crucial.

With Gartner projecting worldwide IT spending for 2015 to increase by 2.4 per cent over 2014 to $US3.8 trillion, how will new applications, users and services be removed or merged within the organisation’s own IT infrastructure?

By now, it has been established that the network infrastructure must be flexible rather than static, to keep pace with rapidly changing markets. So the question organisations should be seeking to answer is – whether to bring the pieces closer together by deploying a converged infrastructure, or disaggregate and have more moving pieces by deploying software-defined networking (SDN)?


The network infrastructure must be more agile than it is today in order to support the pace of the ever-changing business landscape. Yet many fail to recognise the issues with traditional networking.

For a start, it is difficult and time-consuming to change and adapt infrastructure due to network complexity. The same can be said about the constant implementation of new technology features that require time before end user benefits are realised.

Furthermore, network intelligence tends to be too siloed from applications, preventing organisations benefiting from the presence of valuable and relevant data in the respective systems. Networking hardware is too often closed or static, limiting future scaling or enhancements of the data centre.

By now the problem with traditional networking should apparent. The network should be an asset that drives an organisation’s innovation forward, yet too often it holds other efforts back or slows them down. How can organisations address these issues between the differing trends of deploying a converged infrastructure or SDN?

Closed integration

Deploying a converged infrastructure removes a layer of complexity when data centre configuration is abstracted by pre-assembling the components so organisations don’t have to deal with the pieces. This ensures that tighter integrations are built, along with preconfiguring of the pieces – storage, networks, and compute servers – with different applications and uses in mind.

With the pieces being integrated and working collectively at optimal capacity, organisations are able to streamline the day-to-day management of their data centre. They may also stand to benefit from reduced costs that would otherwise be spent on single-use components that are required in managing or troubleshooting these pieces. By consolidating resources and outsourcing the network complexity, time taken to build and scale the data centres is reduced significantly.

Open disaggregation with SDN

Then there is SDN which, in most architectures, disaggregates networking and IT intelligence into separate pieces in order to create more layers of abstraction and increase agility and levels of control and automation. SDN allows the option of separating networking intelligence from networking hardware, which cannot be achieved with traditional routers and switches that have mutually exclusive software embedded in the hardware.

Since the software will not be bound to a networking operating system or control plane, opportunities to leverage new innovations faster will arise. The most extreme incarnation of the SDN model has the potential to add complexity, but also to increase agility and choice, and thus addresses many of the challenges listed above.

To the uninitiated, these may seem like opposing approaches: integrate and bring the pieces closer together, or disaggregate and have more moving pieces. Yet from there are different advantages in the deployment of each trend.

Organisations interested in getting systems up and running quickly may go to the most converged infrastructure available, while those interested in open and dynamic networks that can leverage new innovations faster will look to SDN. At face value these are conflicting trends, yet ultimately it boils down to the different needs and approaches of an organisation, all of which seek to achieve the goal of greater business agility.

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