When we think about learning from cloud, one area that comes to mind immediately is networking.  When you run at cloud scale, the manual changes required today by networking operations just aren’t sustainable.  For example, we make upwards of 50,000 networking changes a day in Microsoft Azure.  Imagine if all of that had to be done manually.  Think about the potential for error and the number of people involved in repetitive tasks. Automation is vital, and you can’t automate processes without first enabling control through software.

In general, today’s networks can be rigid, meaning that they make it difficult to move workloads within the infrastructure, and network operations involve high levels of manual processes.  As a result, one of the biggest trends today is software-defined networking (SDN). What exactly does that mean?

A big part of SDN is network virtualization, a capability that we offer today in Windows Server 2012.  Network virtualization does for the network what server virtualization did for compute.  It allows you to use software to manage a diverse set of hardware as a single, elastic resource pool.  But SDN isn’t just network virtualization.  You need a robust set of management capabilities, like those that we offer in Microsoft System Center 2012, to get the full benefits of the solution.

Networking today is complicated because the underlying physical network hardware such as ports, switches, and routers tends to require manual configuration. Network operations are often complex since the management interfaces to configure and provision network devices tend to be proprietary; in many cases, network configuration needs to happen on a per-device basis, making it difficult to maintain an end-to-end operational view of your network.

By implementing a software-defined networking approach, you can control the building of the network, configuration, and traffic routing using software. You can manage your network infrastructure as a unified whole, and that allows you to three very important things: you can isolate what you need to isolate, you can move what you need to move, and you can build connections between your datacenter and cloud resources.

Isolate:

So let’s first talk about isolation.  The pooling of resources in a private cloud model has clear benefits, but there are many reasons why you might want to create divisions or partitions within that pool.  For example, you might want to separate individual departments.  As companies increasingly rely on central datacenters to support global operations, you might also want to separate geographical regions. Today, some companies create separate areas for physical servers, designated to particular geos, within the datacenter. But that isn’t a very efficient usage model, and it doesn’t give you many options if that set of servers experiences problems. With software-defined networking, you can create boundaries within the datacenter to enable multi-tenancy and keep workloads isolated from each other without placing them in separate hardware pools.

What else can you do with a virtualized network infrastructure?

Move:

In the past, individual workloads were pretty tightly coupled to the underlying physical network infrastructure. That meant that moving workloads within the datacenter required extensive manual reconfiguration.  Software-defined networking lets you move workloads even from one datacenter to another because the control plane for the network is all handled through software.  We have a number of features in Windows Server 2012 R2 that combine to make that process even easier.

Connect to clouds:

And finally, software-defined networking lets you connect easily to clouds outside your datacenter.  It allows you to treat cloud resources as an extension of your own infrastructure – so in a way, you could say that SDN and network virtualization are the keys to hybrid.  That’s why we continue to invest so heavily in this area, and that’s why we offer all of these features in the box.

With Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, your network becomes a pooled resource that can be defined by software, managed centrally through automation, and extended beyond your datacenter.

Read Software-defined networking with Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 to learn more about software defined networking

Download IP Address Management in Windows Server 2012 R2 to learn more about planning, designing, and managing IP networks in the datacenter