Hit the right note with open APIs

How to ensure traditional and software-defined networking components work in harmony for an exceptional user experience.

I love music – both listening to it and playing it. A great track or performance rarely involves just one element; it needs input from various sources. And all those sources need to come together at the same time in perfect harmony.

A software-defined architecture is equally reliant on multiple different elements. If just one of those elements is out of tune, then the whole stack can come crashing down – along with the user experience it supports.

In the application economy, there’s no tolerance for discord. Everything has to work every time, all the time. To ensure software-defined architectures perform in unison with traditional infrastructure, organizations need to be able to integrate not only multi-platform and multi-vendor elements but also the associated network performance monitoring data and dashboards.

Sing the same tune

In a perfect world, every networking component from every networking vendor would interoperate. But that perfect world has yet to materialize: vendor hardware has its own proprietary language, protocols are not interchangeable; and analytics don’t use the same baselines. This doesn’t just impact network monitoring and performance, it impacts application availability and the user experience.

Open application programing interfaces (APIs) can help bridge these gaps and ensure that both software-defined networking (SDN) and the traditional networks that support it never miss a beat.

There are two key API groups that matter in the SDN world – and they can be either open or proprietary.

  • Southbound APIs: used by the SDN controller to push configuration and state information to network devices, such as switches and routers. These APIs facilitate efficient control over the network and enable changes to be executed in real-time based on business and user demands.
  • Northbound APIs: used to communicate between the SDN controller and the services and applications running over the network. These APIs facilitate innovation and enable efficient orchestration and automation of the network to align with the needs of different applications.

Drum up support

When SDN first came on the scene, southbound APIs took center stage, thanks to adoption from the likes of OpenFlow and networking vendors, such as Cisco and Nokia.

Now that the SDN approach and architecture has matured, industry and user focus is turning north. The Open Networking Foundation even went so far as to say that 2016 would be the year of the northbound API.

Northbound APIs will help boost the SDN application ecosystem, which, in turn, will help organizations realize the full agility and efficiency benefits of these architectures. As Rob Sherwood, chair of the Open Networking Foundation’s (ONF) Architecture Working Group, confirms, “Without a northbound API, all network applications must come directly from equipment vendors, which makes it more difficult to innovate in your network. Think of an ‘app store’ for network applications — we couldn’t have that without a northbound API.”

A network performance monitoring strategy based on an Open API architecture should also enable feature velocity to meet market demands and business expectations like customer portals or integrations with existing operational support systems and business support systems. An Open API approach should also enable the creation of custom applications and unique visualizations for a truly innovative and intuitive network troubleshooting experience.

The ability to advance your network performance monitoring at every layer and every stage of the network stack and lifecycle is fundamental to enriching the user experience. Open APIs will not only help organizations overcome existing performance issues, but also ensure advanced network monitoring to enable new services and applications for the future.

Now, does anyone fancy hearing my version of “Stairway to Heaven”?


Jeremy is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager for a variety of Enterprise Management solutions at…

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