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August 20, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:39am

20 ways to explain Software Defined Networking to a five-year-old

The definition of SDN from the experts for the kids (and adults, too).

By Amy-Jo Crowley

Nathan Pearce, Cloud and SDN Product expert, F5 Networks

"Software defined networking (SDN) is like having the power to make new things, at the touch of a magic button – or even just by thinking about it! Imagine having a big shiny button on your bedroom wall and every time you want to do something faster or in a different way, you just press it and it happens. Just think, if you want to get to school faster, you could hit the button and a speedy slide from your bedroom window to the school gate appears. Or if you want the game you’ve ordered to arrive faster, just hit the button and, quick as a flash, the world’s fastest car drops off the delivery man with your new game!"

Jennifer Pigg Clark, VP of Mobility Research, 451 Research

"You know how when you drive somewhere with you parents lots of times one parent (maybe your Dad) does the driving and the other parent (maybe you mom) tells him where to turn? That’s just how network traffic works – someone has to drive the information but someone else has to know where to turn so the information gets where it’s going.

"SDN is like having GPS. Someone still needs to drive the car, but mom can stay home, because the GPS system will tell Dad where to turn. Not only that – it can tell all the dads, in all the different cars, where to turn. So that’s a lot simpler, it’s faster, there are fewer fights, everyone’s happy and all the moms can get together and go do something else – like go to the pool with you, or build a new civilisation – fun stuff."

Andy Chew, Cisco’s UK & Ireland Managing Director of Architectures

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"By 2020 there will be fifty billion things connected to the Internet – or the information super highway as we used to call it in the 1990s. The more devices we use, the more network traffic we’ll experience – if this continues unchecked the information superhighway is likely to become one very big and congested traffic jam!

"Software Defined Networking (SDN) is an approach to networking that will help reduce and alleviate this traffic congestion by being able to programme the ‘highway’. SDN works by separating the network control-plane, think of this as a traffic update on the radio, from the network devices, think of these as the cars.

"By being able to differentiate critical applications (suggested new traffic routes) from noncritical ones (sitting in the traffic jam) it allows companies to dynamically allocate network resources to higher-priority applications – thereby increasing traffic flow and making sure the road stays clear."

Stu Bailey, founder and CTO, Infoblox

"Think about the tablet you use to watch videos and play games, or the phone your Dad uses to check his email or the laptop your Mum uses for work. These are all different kinds of computer.

"Imagine each of these computers is a city full of people doing different things. Today, these cities are connected by highways with cars carrying people back and forth, so one computer can talk to another. These highways have traffic lights and traffic jams and car crashes that slow things down.

"Now, let’s imagine each computer city has a magic balloon around it. When ten or twelve or even a thousand computer cities want to talk to each other, the people inside make the cities float around and find each other! No more highways, no more cars, no more crashes. As long as two magic balloons are touching, the people inside can talk and visit. This magic world is called SDN, and it’s how computers will talk to each other before you’re in high school."

Dr Nick Race, senior lecturer at School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University

"Ever been lost or stuck in traffic and wanted advice on exactly the best way to reach your destination? You might ask a passer-by, who helps you get closer to your destination – only for you to run into more traffic. You turn back, looking for another route. This is very much like how today’s computer networks operate.

"Now let’s imagine the same scenario using SDN. SDN is the networking equivalent of having a reliable, up-to-date mapping application for your smartphone: retrieving the very latest maps, using GPS to plot your location with a central server constantly calculating the best route for you to take. The power of SDN is the software: running on a central server it has a complete picture of the network and can give you the most up-to-date information to help guide you to your destination and avoid those annoying jams."

Ed Ogonek, president and CEO, CENX.

"The Internet is like a kindergarten classroom – where the teacher asks you to pass a ball from the front of the room to the back and each of you decide on your own what is the best way to do so. The ball likely moves in a haphazard manner from one child to another, even touching some multiple times. You may pass it, roll it, throw it, or even drop it.

"A Software Defined Network is one in which the teacher first lines you all up in a straightforward line, tells you to take the ball from the child on your right and pass the ball to the other child on the left. And you do what you’re told. This saves you a lot of time since the ball gets to the back of the classroom much faster."

Mike Fratto, principal analyst of Enterprise Network Systems, Current Analysis

"Regular networking is like playing soccer or kick ball. You play a position and your friends play other positions. You know what to do but sometimes your coach or team mates yell out suggestions. You may or may not do what they say, but you’re all trying to make a goal. SDN isn’t like that. SDN is like a school play. You all have your costumes wear and lines to learn. Your teacher organizes you into places. Then you go on stage and you read your lines and if someone goofs, you fill in. In the end, the audience applauds."

Stuart Greenslade, sales director of EU networking, Avaya

"The benefits of SDN can be likened to removing the constraints of the existing plumbing in your house, when you are refurbishing it. For example when planning a new kitchen you might want to place the sink in the middle of the room because there it would be equidistant between the fridge and the cooker and therefore in the most practical location.

"However you may find that this isn’t possible and that the sink has to be in the corner, because that is where the existing water and waste pipes come into the kitchen. In an SDN environment, network managers are no longer constrained by ‘the plumbing’ – i.e. they would be able to locate the sink in the most useful location, and even move it around several times, regardless of where the pipes are.

"Software simply becomes a toolset and the network manager can move to focusing on solving business problems, not overlaying a software vision on top of business problems. Vitally, SDN allows network managers to really concentrate on the services that their network or data centre delivers – they can organise their networks by use and make them more flexible."

Akshay Sharma, researcher director of Gartner’s Carrier Network Infrastructure Group

"It’s all about bringing the puffy clouds and the stars in space to you and to your toys here on Earth, and this will allow you to have your toys move to the puffy clouds and the stars in space, so you can play with them across other places, and on other devices: TVs, smartphones, tablets…and to enjoy them as you like, and share them with your friends too, and keep everyone happy…"

Clive Hamilton, VP Network Services at NTT Europe

"Think of a network as a football pitch and the ball is the data you want to deliver. Each player has his or her function on the pitch; the striker, the defence and so on. And they all have to work together to deliver the ball to the back of the net.
"But rather than them all having their own opposing strategies on how to achieve this or working individually, which would be chaotic and an impractical use of resource and their individual skills, they need someone to bring them together.

"SDN is the football manager who defines and executes the overarching game plan and strategy. It can also change the game plan in real time to take account of events on the field, such as injuries (downtime and glitches) or a tackle by the opposition that takes a key player down (network conditions that prevent the delivery of the ball, such as network congestion)."

Don McCullough, Director Strategic Communication at Ericsson

"SDN is like when I let you use my pots and pans to play games instead of cooking dinner. You are like a startup company thinking of new ways to have fun, that is great. But I still have to cook dinner, so you must clean them off and give them back to me at the end of the day. The SDN controller is like me letting you think up new ways to play with my pots and pans. It opens up the network so that many different people and companies can try new ideas that will benefit people all around the world. But it also sets up rules that make sure that the network is protected and maintained properly."

Markus Nispel, VP Solutions Architecture and Innovation at Extreme Networks

"SDN offers a new approach to building, managing and operating networks. It acts like the control tower at an airport, whereby the IT administrator can see all activities in the air and on the field – easily and quickly – so that they can determine which planes (applications) need to be adapted or serviced from one central location.

"As a control room, SDN helps the IT administrator to streamline processes within the network (runways), so that the airport or business as a whole can deliver innovative new services or applications quickly. In tandem, like a control room, SDN enables the ‘airline’ to directly and automatically request services from their planes (applications)."

Sean McCammon, principal consultant at CA Technologies, UK & Ireland

"Imagine you are the ‘Boss of the Internet’ and you have to keep a track of all the gazillions of stories, videos and photos that people post on websites like Twitter, Facebook and Moshi Monsters. Your job is to organise all that information and make sure it gets to where it needs to go as quickly as possible but the difficult thing is that there is so much of it, it wouldn’t even fit into Buckingham Palace.

"Also, the giant pipes you have to carry the information from people’s computers to the internet and back again are getting clogged up because all the information sometimes tries to travel down the same pipe at the same time and then there’s a big crash and everything stops.

"Sadly, it’s too expensive and complicated to buy bigger pipes so what you need is something clever to make all the pictures and stories travel faster down the pipes together without getting stuck. SDN means you can watch all the information coming along the pipes and then choose the best routes for it. It’s like being the air traffic control man and making sure all the aeroplanes take off at the right time, find the fastest routes and land at all the different airports in the world without crashing into each other or getting stuck in the sky for ages."

Patrick Hubbard, head geek at SolarWinds

"Imagine that the network is like a lot of people travelling. All of the people need to get places and we use a network of rail and road (wires) and air travel (Wi-Fi) to get ourselves where we need to be and at the right time of day. This is a very busy world, there are a lot of people travelling around the world all the time so we need a clever way to manage it and make sure it all runs smoothly. A software defined network is a network that has been made smarter to manage this busy environment quicker and with more flexibility."

Ray Adensamer, product marketing manager at Radisys

"Just like cars travel on roads, so data packets travel around predetermined paths in telecoms networks – data are the cars on the telecoms network roads. On roads, cars are directed by traffic lights and roundabouts, which are each individually controlled.
"Similarly, in traditional telecoms networks, data traffic is directed by individual routers and switches. But in SDN, all of the ‘traffic light and roundabout control’ is orchestrated by centralised software. This makes it more efficient and cost effective for network operators to quickly update or manage traffic flows and functions in their networks."

David Kelly, VP at Meru Networks

"Imagine you’re in the car with mummy and daddy on your way to the seaside. The sun’s shining and you’ve got your bucket and spade ready to build loads of sandcastles. But suddenly there’s a big jam on the motorway and there’s nothing to do but sit in traffic and play eye spy with your little sister! Now imagine that your car is super intelligent and knows where you want to go and what time you want to be there, and could find a different route to the seaside to avoid the jam.

"Better still, when you got there, the car knew which car park had spaces and how long you wanted to stay on the beach. Software Defined Networking or SDN is a bit like this, as it makes things simpler and automates decisions, so people can focus on what’s important, like when there’s too much traffic on a motorway."

David Dennis, VP of Business Development at GroundWork

""Imagine you have to build a roadway for ants out of pasta. With traditional networking, you can only use pasta that comes in boxes. Yes, there are many different shapes, but sometimes they are too wide, or too straight, or maybe you need more bendy pieces than you have. So the roadway becomes longer and more complicated than you wanted.

"But with SDN, you have a pasta making machine that allows you to mould the pasta exactly the way you want, so that you can make the road instantly without wasting unnecessary time and resources. This not only makes the road better, but also improves work efficiency and provides more control over the functionality and design of the road."

Sam Routledge, Softcat’s Solutions director

"Software Defined Networking (SDN) is like making your own flavoured fizzy drinks with a SodaStream – choosing what flavour you’d like your fizzy drink to be. Imagine always having to have the same flavoured fizzy drink – that’s what networking used to be like, you bought a network and configured it, so you were stuck with one ‘flavour’. With Software Defined Networking you get to choose your ‘flavour’ and switch between different types – it basically means you can alter your network management to suit you. It’s like being able to choose lots of different flavours of fizzy drinks whenever you want them, depending what you want and when you want it – just like a SodaStream."

Ipanema Technologies’ VP of marketing, Béatrice Durand-Piquer

"Imagine if you could control all the things in your house with just your iPhone or iPad depending on what you need – the TV, the lights, the door locks, even the washing machine! It would make life really easy because you wouldn’t have to remember which remote control to use for everything, and you wouldn’t have to get up to go and turn things on and off. Everything could be controlled with the iPhone.

"Now imagine if you could also use it to control the stuff in your friends house too! SDN is like that, but it controls how pictures, games, video and other bits move between computers all around the world. It’s much cheaper and easier than having to visit places everywhere to turn things on and off !"

Joy Gardham, regional director EMEA West at Brocade

"SDN is a new technology that will allow businesses to control their information better than ever before. Lots of information – like images, emails, videos and documents – travels across our IT networks and, sometimes, there is too much of it for the network to cope. This causes delays and lots of other problems, just like when too many cars try to go down the same road all at once and you get a traffic jam! SDN makes the whole IT network much smarter, meaning all of the information will be directed to where it needs to be as fast as possible, without any delays. What makes SDN even better is that it is also less expensive and more flexible so, as businesses need to move more and more information around, the network can always cope."

Gordon Rawling, EMEA Marketing Director at Oracle Communications

"Software-defined networking is really about things working in a different way. In the past, the way we used networks to talk or share information was relatively simple and didn’t change very much. Now, people want to do new things with their mobiles, tablets, and computers nearly every day. SDN makes it possible to get new services up and running faster and make them cheaper, which means we’ll be able to do what we want with any of these devices as soon as we need to."

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