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Five benefits of software-defined networking-enabling the wireless LAN

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A more agile wireless LAN is the need of the hour to meet the exploding mobility demand. As the network edge transitions to wireless, software defined networking (SDN) and OpenFlow are emerging as ways to deliver new levels of agility and let organisations meet users’ expectations for a superior application experience from their mobile devices.

Beginning with tablets, smartphones and laptops, billions of devices will be connected wirelessly, continuing to drive productivity and efficiency. Gartner estimates that 26 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020. 

Wavelink Managing Director Ilan Rubin observes that the rapid growth of mobility and cloud services is leading to the wireless LAN becoming the primary access method. With next-generation 802.11ac technology delivering gigabit throughput today, the transition to an all-wireless access network will only accelerate. 

To achieve the full promise of mobility, wired and wireless LANs must be provisioned faster and managed more easily. Today, applications and services depend on two physically separate networks. The user experience differs when using applications over the wired or wireless LAN. Organisations must manage and secure wired and wireless access networks separately, with discrete tools and consoles. The difficulty of provisioning and managing these infrastructures independently is a barrier to achieving the scale that is required. 

According to Rubin, SDN can have a transformative effect on networks. As organisations move to virtualisation and the cloud, they see that the manual configuration of legacy data centre networks is time-consuming and error-prone. A virtual server can be created in minutes, but changing the underlying network may take days or weeks. SDN has emerged to remedy this problem. 

He explains that SDN-enabling the network edge can pave the way to deliver consistently high performance for essential business applications. Key applications can be prioritised over the virtual network, which ensures a consistent user experience. A more agile access network can better meet the exploding demand for applications and services, letting organisations deliver more network services at a faster pace with fewer or the same resources. 

Therefore, SDN must work for all users and across all networks, with true interoperability among network components via OpenFlow. With open programmable access to the wireless infrastructure, network-aware applications can communicate directly with the wireless controller and the network can change dynamically in response.

Five benefits of SDN-enabling the wireless LAN for organisations 

1. Create and enforce unified policies network-wide: IT policies are defined once and then enforced consistently across the wired and wireless LANs. Users have a uniform experience, regardless of their access method. 

2. Build a smarter network that adapts to business needs programmatically: The network becomes more intelligent and changes dynamically in response to application and business needs. With SDN enabled across the network, IT can enforce service levels to automatically deliver the necessary network performance, quality of service or security. Open, standards-based APIs make it easy to create SDN applications, which directly and programmatically communicate their network requirements and desired network behaviour to the SDN controller. 

3. Unify management of the wired and wireless network: Having single-pane-of-glass management for the wired and wireless LAN simplifies network operations and lowers costs. Administrators can view clients using a single tool, no matter which network they’re on, and they gain greater visibility into the unified network. 

4. Greater choice of vendors: SDN is open and standards-based, which means organisations can mix and match network components from different vendors. Ultimately, greater choice creates competition in the market, driving innovation. 

5. Simplify network provisioning and lower total cost of ownership: An SDN-enabled network responds dynamically to changing policies and traffic loads, freeing network administrators from manual, time-consuming tasks and letting them focus more on strategic work, which lowers the cost of network operations.

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