Microsoft officials believe software-defined networking will have a significant impact on unified communications, including the company's own Lync platform.
Unified communications (UC) deployments are rife with network elements, such as routers, firewalls, intrusion detection systems and application delivery controllers, according to Jamie Stark, senior product marketing manager for Lync at Microsoft. All these need to be properly configured to get the best results from the UC implementation, and currently, most of these elements need to be configured individually.
"Instead of having all of these elements configured discretely, SDN [software-defined networking] provides a model for a single policy-based method of operations, where the application tells the network what needs to happen," Stark wrote in a Dec. 17 post on the Microsoft Lync blog site.
The software giant is making a push in that direction with the release of the company's Lync SDN API, a free REST-ful software offering that enables users running applications built on the Lync SDN API to collect data on the performance of Lync, and sends the data to an SDN controller that can let the network know what needs to be done, and where and when it needs doing.
With the API, users can automatically provision quality of service, with the controller, as it gets information about a media flow starting up, instructing the network to ensure those packets are marked correctly in real time, according to Stark. Network monitoring systems manage Lync media flows and any other activities on the network that might impact the quality of the media flows. In addition, the software can ensure greater orchestration of all network elements throughout all seven layers, according to Microsoft.
Stark wrote that some companies already are leveraging the Lync SDN API. Nectar offers diagnostic software that supports the API, and Aruba Networks' latest wireless networking technologies use the API, according to Microsoft officials. The software vendor also has been talking with the UCI Forum and Open Networking Foundation about SDN, applications and UC.
Networking and unified communications are natural fits, according to Stark. He noted that many of the people on the engineering team for Lync and Skype, the video communication platform, at one point had worked in the core networking unit for Windows Server.
"While most of the world looks at Lync as a great unified communications software package, underlying its user interface and capabilities are lots and lots of networking protocols," he wrote. "Folks who spend any time with the deployment, configuration, or operations of Lync certainly realize this—there's a lot going on with the 'wire,' whether that’s over the air or on copper. Networking is very much in the DNA of Lync, so when the industry started rallying around [SDN], we were excited to participate."
SDN has become the hottest technology in networking, promising to create more flexible, dynamic, programmable and cost-effective network infrastructures. SDN takes the network intelligence out of expensive and complex hardware and puts it into a software-based network controller. In addition, network applications and services can inform the controller what is needed from the network.
"This concept started with cloud-scale data centers and has been moving down-market as enterprise network architects realize the power of this model," Stark wrote. "SDN’s primary use case has been around ensuring that virtual machines can be managed independently of the underlying network fabric. Here in the Lync organization, we think that unified communications can be a major beneficiary as well."
Industry analysts are expecting rapid growth in the SDN space, with more deployments of the technology coming in 2014. Analysts with Infonetics Research said earlier this month that the SDN market will hit $3.1 billion by 2017. That echoes what others are finding.
Transparency Market Research in August said the market will reach $3.52 billion by 2018, while IDC analysts a year ago predicted $3.7 billion by 2016. SDN startup Plexxi, Website SDNCentral and venture capital firm Venture Partners said they expect the SDN market to grow significantly faster, to $35 billion by 2018.