The term “software-defined” has been applied to a number of technologies, including networking, WAN, security, storage and data center.
One area it has yet to be associated with is the local area network (LAN). But what exactly does “software-defined” mean and should it extend to the LAN? Just because something runs in software, it doesn’t make it any different than running in hardware.
That’s just one component of being software-defined. Other factors including having centralized control, being programmable and agile, and providing visibility to gain new insights. Most important, a software-defined system should be able to automate configuration changes as the applications’ needs change.
A good way to think about a software-defined X is that it has the same level of agility and automation capabilities as other areas of IT. Based on this definition, there certainly is some validity in taking these attributes and applying them to the LAN.
LAN enters the world of software-defined
Aerohive Networks’ SD-LAN announcement brings the LAN into the world of software-defined. The solution includes new 802.11ac access points, as well as several wired access switches. Most people that follow the Wi-Fi space think of Aerohive as being a wireless pure play. Wi-Fi is certainly what they do best, but they do have a strong lineup of wired access switches.
The products are always interesting; they are the shiny new objects that people can see and ooh and ahh over. The foundation of Aerohive’s SD-LAN, however, is the latest release of HiveManager NG, the company’s cloud management system. Many Wi-Fi vendors offer cloud-managed network infrastructure, but HiveManager is the most robust management portal I have seen. There’s no aspect of network configuration that can’t be done via HiveManager NG. Many of the other cloud portals I have seen let administrators do basic function, but more advanced capabilities aren’t available or require access via the command line.
Wi-Fi industry has been software-defined for a while
In actuality, the Wi-Fi industry was software-defined long before “SD” was a thing. Wi-Fi systems have always had centralized control through what’s known as a Wi-Fi controller that pushed configurations down to the APs. Over time, the APs have evolved and become more robust, but the separation of control plane and data plane and centralized management that defines many software-defined solutions has always existed.
Aerohive’s solution accomplishes this without a physical controller. Instead the control functionality is distributed across the system and made accessible through HiveManager.
Aerohive SD-LAN features
In addition to centralized control through the cloud management system, Aerohive’s SD-LAN meets the software-defined criteria through the following attributes:
- Application driven. As mentioned previously, the ability to adapt to application changes is one of the most important attributes of a software-defined system. Aerohive’s solution prioritizes and dynamically modifies the network based on the applications that are running. The most important applications received highest priority and the most network services, so there is no degradation of quality.
- Identity driven. The solution has robust authentication capabilities based on context-based policy control that can automate onboarding of end points and dynamically define which users and devices can access the network and what they can do. This becomes increasingly important with the Internet of Things (IoT) where lots of non-traditional IT devices will be connected to the network, often without IT knowing.
- Adaptable access layer. Aerohive’s APs and wired switches are powered by software, making them highly agile because they can respond to changes in the environment. Features include such things as self optimization and self heading. Even the radios can be modified through software.
- Open APIs. Programmability enables the network to become part of the application infrastructure. In a digital world, the network will have a big impact on workforce and customer experience. Great apps on a crappy network means a poor experience and unhappy consumers and employees. The APIs enable developers to access valuable network information to gain new insights and also modify the configuration to support an application.
In addition, Aerohive’s dashboard in HiveManager NG provides a wealth of information that network managers, operations teams and application developers can use to understand the environment and make changes before users are impacted.
Aerohive’s SD-LAN brings a level of agility, visibility and automation to the campus LAN that it never had before. Digitization has transformed almost every part of IT, and if organizations are going to maximize the investments they have made in other areas of IT, it’s time for the LAN to evolve and become software-defined.