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White Paper

SDN and Cloud Computing

June 18, 2014
John Hales


After a review of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and its close cousin Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), this white paper addresses three main deployment scenarios: SDN without deploying cloud computing, cloud computing without deploying SDN, and deploying cloud computing in conjunction with SDN. We'll look at use cases, when the approach makes sense, and any applicable limitations.



In this white paper, we'll review Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and briefly touch on its close cousin Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). After highlighting a few relevant cloud computing concepts and terms, we'll look at the three main deployment scenarios: SDN without deploying cloud computing, cloud computing without deploying SDN, and deploying cloud computing in conjunction with SDN. For each of these three scenarios, we'll look at use cases, when the approach makes sense, and any applicable limitations.

Finally, we'll conclude with the reason SDN and cloud computing are often mentioned together and determine which approach is best for solving various business challenges.

Brief Review of SDN and Cloud Computing Terms

This white paper is not an in-depth review of SDN, NFV, or cloud computing, but rather explores the relationship between them. Therefore, we will not explain them in detail but instead offer a brief review of terminology and concepts to help you understand the entire white paper.


SDN changes how networking is fundamentally done. Instead of having network intelligence distributed across every device, SDN aims to centralize command and control in a master device (or a few of them for redundancy) and to split networking into three planes, namely:

- Management: This is the interface you use to orchestrate the entire network, specifying the way you wish the network to be run at a high level.

- Control: This is where all the individual devices are directed from using the inputs from the management layer, translating management directives into the actual commands the data layer use to move traffic around.

- Data: This is where the data is actually moved from one device to another.

A major advantage of SDN is that the actual data layer devices can be much simpler and thus less expensive as they don't have to decide what to do with each packet they receive. From a human perspective, each device does not need to be individually programmed. SDN's purpose can thus be summarized as centralized command and control.


NFV takes the physical networking devices commonly used today (switches, routers, load balancers, firewalls, antivirus, etc.) and virtualizes them in much the same manner as servers. NFV is used to scale out across devices less expensively (scaling by simply adding compute power) and to automatically deploy devices as needed. Thus each project does not require separate equipment or reprogramming of existing equipment. Relevant devices can be centrally deployed via your hypervisor management platform and configured with rules and policies. NFV is almost exclusively used in conjunction with virtualization of servers.

NFV's goal can thus be summarized as automated provisioning of devices.

SDN and NFV Together
While SDN can be used without NFV and vice versa, the real power, especially as it relates to cloud computing, comes when they are used together. When combined you get automated provisioning along with centralized command and control. In the context of this white paper we will combine both under the SDN banner to simplify the discussion.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is aimed at self-service provisioning across tenants. A tenant may be a project, department, division, or even a different company. As such, security becomes very important. There are multiple models associated with cloud computing; major categories include:

- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Making VMs available to customers with the physical hardware (servers, storage, and networking) managed by the service provider. A variation of IaaS allows physical servers to be used in place of VMs (called MaaS or Metal as a Service by some, though not officially part of the NIST definition of cloud computing).

- Platform as a Service (PaaS): The development platform for programmers is provided as a service while all the details about the physical and virtual equipment is abstracted from the developer and managed by the service provider.

- Software as a Service (SaaS): An application (such as email or contact management) is made available to customers while all the details of the underlying platform are abstracted from the customer.

There are other models and services that can be deployed in conjunction with cloud computing, but are derivatives of those already listed. This white paper will mostly be addressing the first model (IaaS).

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