The social networking giant says software-defined networking will be a big part of its future strategy.

The social networking giant says software-defined networking will be a big part of its future strategy.

Software-defined networking is one of the technologies crucial to the future viability of the world’s largest social network.

That’s according to Najam Ahmad, Facebook’s Director of Technical Operations, speaking at Interop New York. SDN is “not a fad,” and will be the way most networks are built in the coming years, he said.

Speaking to the IDG News Service, he explained that the key reason why SDN is so attractive to Facebook is that it provides the company with a level of network flexibility it cannot currently achieve.

Software-defined networking gives companies the ability to dynamically make changes to its data center equipment using software. Currently, the majority of the world’s data centers require a technician to physically modify equipment, or dial into the equipment to fix problems.

With more than a billion registered Facebook users worldwide, being able to react quickly and provide users with the fastest service is vital. Ahmad said that the company is currently being held back by its arrangement of third-party switches, routers and other networking equipment.

“With traditional networking, you buy a box,” he said. “You get command line interface and protocols, but that is all you get.”

He said Facebook is unable to effectively manage its environment using physically defined networking technology.

For instance, when Facebook finds a technical issue in a piece of third-party networking gear, it has to ask the vendor that made the hardware to dial directly into the equipment and issue secret commands to an application-specific integrated circuit.

Those commands are not available through the standard command-line interface, which means Facebook (and other companies) cannot respond immediately to problems.

SDN solves those problems and makes the company’s networking tools as flexible as the rest of its IT stack, Ahmad said. “We want to deploy, manage, monitor and fix the network using software.”

While the company knows the problems it faces today, it cannot predict what issues may arise in the coming years. But when it does run into something, the ability to fix it quickly is highly important, he continued.

“Networking needs to come out of the dark ages, or the closed era, and come into the open. Gone are the days of the tightly integrated stuff,” Ahmad said. “We need to leverage the large developer base out there to get networking moving a lot faster than it is today.”