For Dave Sandum, it’s not a matter of if software-defined networking will become the norm in K–12 school districts, but when.
“SDN is an emerging technology that’s going to be a big player in all infrastructure,” says Sandum, director of technology at West St. Paul – Mendota Heights – Eagan Area Schools in Minnesota. “SDN will be part of the strategic vision in the three-year plan I’m currently creating.”
What makes SDN so intriguing for schools is that the network control plane is physically separated from the forwarding plane, explains Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation. This decoupling enables IT administrators to perform remote management of network devices through programmable software. Now, instead of trudging across the school or district to update network switches and routers manually, IT administrators can manage and upgrade proprietary hardware from a centralized location.
IT administrators praise SDN for its flexibility, but they love it for its mass appeal. “SDN opens up a whole world of innovation through software and programming that ordinary people can write,” says Pitt.
Brocade, Cisco Systems, HP and VMware are among the heavy hitters currently working on SDN solutions.
Advocates say the impact of SDN at K–12 schools will be felt largely on four fronts: cost, flexibility, accuracy and policy enforcement. The use of programmable software on the network means administrators will be able to conserve resources, standardize technology deployments and upgrades, and more efficiently distribute network patches and fixes.
“SDN will make switching and routing basic with very little intelligence, which will drive down the cost of hardware,” Pitt says, adding, “School districts, which never have enough money for IT, should notice a decrease in the price of equipment.”