Say Goodbye to Tons of Cable: Software Defined Networking (SDN) is Transformational

What is SDN? In layperson terms, we explain this new breed of network infrastructure design.
Jan 27, 2022

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Take a look at these side-by-side network infrastructure building plans. The building on the left is serviced through a legacy system; the building on the right demonstrates a fiber-deep network architecture. The difference? A significantly lighter cable footprint. Rather than pulling multiple cables from the IDF to the endpoints, a single fiber cable suffices. Additionally, the MDF and IDF require fewer ports. As for bandwidth and latency: the fiber-deep network leverages the virtually-unlimited bandwidth capabilities of optical fiber to put an end to the rip-and-replace infrastructure upgrade cycle of a legacy system.


Let’s dig deeper (as in fiber-deeper :) and do some explaining.

In legacy systems, data communication enters the building at the demarcation point. Cable technicians (that’s us!) build the main distribution frame (MDF) - comprised of switches, media converters, routers, and patch panels - which then branch out to several intermediate distribution frames (IDFs). From there, the data travels on copper cables, winding its way around the building to final endpoints. The bandwidth of each cable is predefined and static. If you need connectivity to a security camera, we choose a Cat6 cable; if the endpoint is a wireless access point, then we’ll install a Cat6a cable. Essentially, there is 1:1 ratio of cables and endpoints, with each connection chosen for its final data usage.


Software-defined networking (SDN) is a structurally different configuration. Rather than a static system, the network is dynamic. A single fiber runs from the MDF to multiple software-defined access nodes that are placed right on the edge – in your conference rooms, by your workstations, or in your admin offices. The nodes contain up to 8 Ethernet ports (or even 24 or 48 Ethernet ports for high density situations). Simply attach your devices - screens, cameras, access points - and you’re connected. As a result, buildings can reduce the linear feet of cable by up to 70% and reduce cable trays by up to 50%.


Because this system is software-defined, the network manager can leverage the single-pane-of-glass orchestration platform to see down to the port level of each access node, remotely troubleshoot any issues, access real-time and historical data, and optimize their network performance. With a flexible SDN solution, you can ensure you have the right bandwidth, latency, and technology requirements to support each device on your network.


Benefits of SDN

  • Unification and simplicity. Virtually all your building network infrastructure and applications - including LAN, WLAN, AV, security and building controls - converge onto a single platform

  • Up to 30-50% savings in cabling install. Less cable translates to less cabling costs. 1 fiber = multiple copper runs.

  • Up to a 50% annual operational savings. Fewer switches and ports requiring power means less power consumption and less air conditioning.

  • Saves space. Eliminates the need for an IDF, gaining you more square footage in your facility.

  • Flexible Upgrades. Adding or changing endpoint devices is less invasive, faster, and less expensive.


Optimal Use Cases for Fiber-Deep SDN

As we pointed out in the first paragraph, the starkest benefit of SDN is its light footprint. This makes SDN ideal in spaces that would traditionally require a large volume of copper cable: factories, hotels, multi-tenant and high-rise buildings.


Next, the overall cost for SDN deployment is often more cost-effective than a traditional install. Remember how the IDFs can be eliminated in an SDN install? Not only are there fewer cable runs, but there is also less ancillary networking equipment – cable trays, rack space, conduit, power and cooling the IDFs. 


Lastly, SDN is ideal for new builds or major renovations because it can have a positive impact on how the building is built. As an example, a 180k sq. ft. office building with 6 floors originally needed 1 MDF and 5 IDFs for all its connectivity. By choosing SDN, they eliminated all the IDF closets and serviced the entire office from the MDF. They could then reclaim the IDF space and repurpose it as conference rooms and employee areas. 


Starting the conversation early in the construction process allows building owners to realize the full benefits and impacts of SDN since it is truly an end-to-end solution.


Conclusion

Because of its light footprint and ability to permeate deep into the building, a software-defined network can easily handle the bandwidth of tomorrow’s network applications. Additionally, because of its reliability and low latency, SDN is an excellent backbone for the wireless network. The result is a building that provides a stellar mobile-first experience. Wayfinding, untethered devices, 5G mobile applications… Whatever the future brings, your building’s occupants will enjoy unparalleled flexibility with a fiber-deep network.


Learn more about fiber-deep with resources from Corning.


Learn even more about fiber-deep by contacting us today!