IT service-level agreements and SDN: Assuring virtualization performance

With SDN with network virtualization, service providers can improve server virtualization performance and offer improved service-level agreements.

There's been lots of talk about the potential for software-defined networking to result in operational flexibility and cost savings, but there is another unsung benefit of SDN -- the ability to optimize next-generation IT service-level agreements (SLAs). At the intersection of SDN and SLAs, engineers can ensure virtualization performance in more holistic way.

Brandon HoffBrandon Hoff

Traditional SLAs cover the availability of already deployed workloads. Basic service-provider or enterprise SLAs include things like mean time between failures, mean time to repair or mean time to recovery. But they don't go much deeper.

Today, users are demanding more from their service providers. They want to spin workloads up and down dynamically, imitate their on-premises deployment, and have their SLAs cover all of this provisioning. While traditional SLAs promised that data center environments would have "five 9s availability," or five minutes of downtime per year, a newer SLA might promise five 9s availability and 10 minutes to deploy a new server through a Web-based portal.

SDN's role in IT service level agreements

The current challenge with supporting this new class of SLAs has been the legacy network. While deploying a workload on a virtual machine (VM) might take two minutes, it can take more than a week to configure the network around it. Herein lies the gap between what customers want and what providers can currently deliver.

SDN has the ability to solve this problem. With SDN, network devices (routers and switches) can be managed using OpenFlow or other standard interfaces, and virtual network overlays using Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN) or Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation, or NVGRE, can be managed through a separate set of application programming interfaces (APIs). Once the network is virtualized, the SDN controller can configure network devices as quickly as new VMs can be deployed. For example, customers can take a VM image, deploy it to hardware, spin it up, put an application on it through OpenStack Compute, and configure the network around it in a short time through OpenStack Neutron (a form of SDN with orchestration). In this scenario, SLAs can cover the time and cost of deploying new compute resources, as well as their related network resources.

Using SDN for inexpensive test and development environments

Testing and development for virtual environments and their applications is crucial to making IT service level agreements work in the long term. Until now, the testing and development process has been expensive, but SDN changes that too.

As an example, a large retail company can use SDN to configure an internal development environment so developers can use a Web graphical user interface to deploy new compute resources on demand for application development. Previously, the company's developers may have had to call IT to request a new development environment, which could take days. With SDN and VXLAN for virtual network overlays, these developers can spin up a new test environment on a VM in a matter of minutes, allowing them to focus on application development without waiting on network configuration. Furthermore, once the new application is ready for production, it can be easily migrated directly into a production environment without the risks that could be introduced by reconfiguring the IP addresses of the application environment.

More on IT service-level agreements and the network

Understanding application optimization and SLAs

Where data center monitoring plays in SLAs

Crafting an internal SLA

From the service provider's perspective, the benefits of SDN include cutting down the time to deploy a new service from seven days to just a few minutes. The price of a job that would have cost $1200 or more has now been minimized to nearly nothing, and the job can be done with the click of a button. By cutting down costs, service providers can attract more customers, increase profitability and improve customer satisfaction. Meanwhile, customers get an on-demand virtual environment and the IT services they need, all at the click of a button. As a result, a brand new kind of SLA is enabled, supporting the dynamic requirements of the new data center paradigm.

About the author:
Brandon Hoff, director of product management at Emulex, focuses on innovation and cloud technologies to enable customized solutions for cloud providers and innovative solutions for enterprise users. Hoff has focused his career on designing, developing and applying industry-shifting technologies to solving customer problems.

This was last published in July 2013

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