Network Performance Management Must Evolve to Support SDN

Network Performance Management Must Evolve to Support SDN

The following is a guest blog from Shamus McGillicuddy, Sr. Analyst Network Management at Enterprise Management Associates.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is a transformative technology. It introduces unprecedented levels of agility, programmability, and automation to data networks. But these benefits can only be achieved if the networking organization has the right tools in place to operate an SDN infrastructure. Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) believes that network performance management (NPM) systems must evolve to support SDN.

First of all, some NPM systems will need to add support for new SDN protocols. The VXLAN, NVGRE, and Geneve protocols, for instance, encapsulate traffic. NPM systems that rely on visibility into packets for full analysis will need to understand these protocols in order to gain full insight into packet headers and payloads.

EMA also believes that NPM tools will need to improve how they present network path visualizations. This is particularly important because of the increased amount of virtual network elements in many SDN environments.

Network virtualization overlays introduce a new layer of infrastructure to datacenter networks. End-to-end monitoring and troubleshooting across overlays and the physical network underlays in these datacenters will require complete visibility into the paths that application flows traverse. While some SDN overlay vendors provide this end-to-end visibility in their native management interfaces, many network teams rely on their NPM systems to monitor and troubleshoot infrastructure. Therefore, NPM systems must provide their own comprehensive path visualization.

NPM systems will also need to integrate with the open APIs available on most SDN controllers. This integration will help NPM systems adjust to the dynamic nature of software-defined networks. Many NPM systems are designed to monitor static environments. For instance, they collect packet flows from fixed points on the network, or they collect flow records from key network devices, which network engineers need to configure manually. EMA expects that NPM tools will need to detect and respond to the on-demand capacity changes and the dynamic addition and subtraction of devices that SDN enables. One of the best ways to do this will be via API integration with SDN controllers.

The programmable changes that SDN enables also present an opportunity for NPM tools. Depending on how comfortable an enterprise is with closed-loop operations, it may want its NPM systems to be able to programmatically alter the network to remediate any problems that the systems detect.

We are still in the early days of SDN adoption. Network operators are still scoping out the new management requirements that SDN creates in their management systems.

However, EMA is currently researching how SDN impacts NPM and other network management systems. Our early findings suggest that the majority of today’s SDN adopters do not have the right management tools in place to support the technology. Most of them will need to either modify their existing network management systems or acquire new management tools to fully support SDN.

EMA recommends that networking organizations ask their existing management system vendors to share their plans for SDN support. If network operators identify new requirements for their tools, they should share that information immediately with their vendors. Many management vendors are still developing their approach to SDN. Now is the time to be heard.