An In-Depth Look at Software-Defined Networking

Software-Defined Networking and the Visual Dashboard

Let's talk a little bit about how software-defined networking works – practically.

Right now, we're in the age of the visual dashboard – where vendors and software producers are trying to make everything as visual as possible, to achieve the goals of offering 'intuitive interface.' People want to see pictures of what's going on in a highly complex digital environment. They don't want to have to read about how controllers work, or where data is going. They want that information at their fingertips in the form of visuals.

With that in mind, users often get a good picture of software-defined networking concepts through a visual dashboard that shows, for example, where the control plane “head” is and how it relates to the distributed control nodes or switches that have resident data plane structures built into them.

For example, an engineer might draw a dashboard with an SDN controller at the top, and lines to SDN agents embedded in Ethernet switches or network nodes. The visual dashboard may show the location of hosts within this architecture, and how information bounces through the network. Of course, the visual dashboard can also include all sorts of metrics and data about packet flow and what kind of information is moving through the system. The visual dashboard can show all sorts of protocols related to handling information or packet flow. You get the idea.

Because it's visual and not constrained to the archaic format of explaining something through paragraphs of text, the visual dashboard for software-defined networking can really be the network administrator's handbook. People can learn at a glance how the architecture is set up, how to change it, whether any inefficiencies or problems exist, and exactly what's going on inside the system at a given time. Think about pursuing a desired state, optimizing workflows and eliminating bottlenecks or silos. All of this is aided by intuitive interfaces that show users what SDN is doing. That's regardless of how much of a service is located in the cloud, whether any fiber-optic cable is involved, or whether the company is using containers, or vendor systems like AWS.

The idea of orienting SDN users with a visual dashboard goes back to the idea that SDN systems are diverse. There is no one-size-fits-all model. So it makes sense that these visuals, crafted by vendors or whoever is working on SDN, will orient everyone to not only how the system works, but how to control it, monitor it or otherwise manage these highly involved next-generation networks.

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Written by Justin Stoltzfus
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Justin Stoltzfus is a freelance writer for various Web and print publications. His work has appeared in online magazines including Preservation Online, a project of the National Historic Trust, and many other venues.

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