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Microsoft Sees 'Software-Defined Datacenters' Coming with Windows Server 2019

Software-defined networking (SDN) is one of the top 10 networking features supported by Windows Server 2019, and it'll power so-called "software-defined datacenters" (SDDCs), Microsoft claimed in a Wednesday announcement.

An SDDC, per Microsoft's definition, is based on the coming Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition and will feature the following networking capabilities as controlled in software:

  • Virtual networking with switching
  • Routing
  • Firewalling with microsegmentation
  • Third-party appliances
  • Load balancing

Microsoft is claiming that SDDCs using Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition can lower costs, increase security and better address application needs:

This [SDDC] enables you to create a datacenter or branch office with lower costs, with increased security, and greater agility to tailor the network to meet the needs of your applications. It's all included in Windows Server Datacenter edition, so any SDDC deployment from two node hyper-converged systems up to multi-rack data-center deployments benefit from these capabilities...at no extra cost!

What is SDN?
The common perceived benefit of SDN is that it enhances management capabilities at the control layer of networking devices. Microsoft provided its own definition of SDN technology about six years ago when it was preparing to launch Windows Server 2012. Microsoft argued back then that its SDN efforts were a little different from others in that they enabled the "programmability of end hosts" and support for "real-time changes in response to VM placement and migration."

SDN was considered to be hype back in 2012. The picture changed somewhat in 2014. A survey found that 22 percent of IT pros were planning to adopt SDN back then. However, the survey also found that 40 percent of respondents couldn't say exactly what SDN was.

Essentially, with SDN technology, proprietary hardware networking elements get abstracted into software. However, having the right hardware is important, too. Microsoft has a Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) program that it started with its hardware partners last year. The program lays out the optimal design guidelines for hardware partners to follow to support SDN on Windows Server, according to this description of the WSSD program.

Windows Server 2019 is expected to be commercially released sometime this year, but the ability to use SDN technology with it will depend on organizations being licensed for the Datacenter edition of the product.

'Easy' SDN Management
Microsoft also is claiming that it's "easy" for IT pros to manage SDN technology, both in Windows Server 2019 and Windows Server 2016, through additions to the Windows Admin Center. The Windows Admin Center, which hit "general availability" status back in April, is a browser-based replacement for various Microsoft in-box tools, such as Server Manager and Microsoft Management Console.

Windows Admin Center supports managing the "hyperconverged cluster experience," where compute and storage happen in the same cluster. The management happens through an "SDN extension" in the Windows Admin Center, which can only be used if a hyperconverged cluster has been set up previously. Microsoft also advises adding a network controller.

"By adding a Network Controller to your Hyper-Converged cluster, you can manage your SDN resources and infrastructure through a single application," Microsoft explained regarding the use of Windows Admin Center.

Microsoft has been touting Windows Server support for hyperconverged infrastructure as a way of improving data deduplication and memory processes and, in combination with the Storage Spaces Direct feature, reducing storage costs through the use of lower-cost storage devices. Microsoft also has indicated that it expects to quadruple the storage capacity of Storage Spaces Direct, which sets up pools of disk storage, to 4PB pools with Windows Server 2019.

The combination of SDN and hyperconverged infrastructure allows organizations using Windows Admin Center to "create, modify and configure virtual networks and their subnets" and to "view the VMs connected to the virtual network subnets," Microsoft promised. Apparently, SDN extension support in the Windows Admin Center is still a work in progress, as Microsoft is currently "working to bring full end-to-end virtual network management to the SDN extension for Windows Admin Center."

Microsoft is also touting an "SDN monitoring extension" in the Windows Admin Center for monitoring "the state of the SDN services and infrastructure in real-time." It'll show "the health of your network controller, software load balancers, virtual gateways, and hosts," and it will let IT pros monitor "virtual gateway pools, public IP pools and private IP pools."

Configuration and Deployment
In using Windows Server SDN capabilities, organizations will need to configure "a management network for infrastructure communication" and "a provider network for the virtualized workload traffic," Microsoft's announcement explained. Microsoft referred readers to further details in its "Plan a Software Defined Network Infrastructure" document. This document describes the need to have a "management logical network" and a "Hyper-V network virtualization provider logical network" configured. The description is a rather densely technical account. Based on it, SDN configuration seems far from being easy.

Deployment of Windows Server's SDN capabilities can be done using the SDN Express tool, which is a wizard-like tool with a "UI [user interface], a PowerShell script and set of modules available on GitHub." The PowerShell modules are there to support further customizations, or add "Hyper-V hosts, load balancers or gateways." It's also possible to deploy SDN using System Center Virtual Machine Manager, but IT pros are then confined to using Virtual Machine Manager for management tasks.

While SDN was deemed No. 7 in Microsoft's top 10 Windows Server 2019 networking features, No. 8 was improved Web site support. The Web site support enhancements include "connection coalescing" for HTTP/2 traffic, which is used to "mitigate sharding." In addition, the server supports automatic fixes for HTTP/2 connection failures. Microsoft also added Cubic as the default congestion control provider in Windows Server 2019, which supports high-bandwidth, high-latency TCP connections.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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