Software-Defined Networking

Provision, manage, and program networks more rapidly

Adopt an SDN solution that provides automation and programmability across your entire network. See how SDN is the foundation for automating the complete network lifecycle with intent-based networking.

What is software-defined networking (SDN)?

SDN is an architecture designed to make a network more flexible and easier to manage. SDN centralizes management by abstracting the control plane from the data forwarding function in the discrete networking devices.

SDN elements

An SDN architecture delivers a centralized, programmable network and consists of the following:

  • A controller, the core element of an SDN architecture, that enables centralized management and control, automation, and policy enforcement across physical and virtual network environments
  • Southbound APIs that relay information between the controller and the individual network devices (such as switches, access points, routers, and firewalls)
  • Northbound APIs that relay information between the controller and the applications and policy engines, to which an SDN looks like a single logical network device

SDN adoption

SDN has seen wide adoption across data centers (64%), WANs (58%), and access networks (40%). For more information on SDN trends, see the 2020 Global Networking Trends report.


SDN serves as a foundational element of a comprehensive intent-based networking (IBN) architecture. SDN has been limited to automated provisioning and configuration. IBN now adds "translation" and "assurance" so you can automate the complete network lifecycle and continuously align the network to business needs. Watch our Beyond SDN webinar recording to explore more ways that intent is changing how we network.

Features and benefits

Simplify operations

Build programmable networks that auto-discover and auto-configure fabrics and switches.

Achieve faster troubleshooting

Improve the health of networks with network analytics, machine learning and predictive insights.

Improve security

Deploy consistent zero-trust access across your network with policy-based segmentation

Transform your infrastructure

Lay the platform to automate life-cycle management across access, WAN and cloud network domains

Find the best SDN solution for you

For data center managers

Increase business agility: Automate provisioning and operations, enhance security, and enable multicloud.

For network managers

Design, provision, and manage highly secure networks that provide access to any application.

See what customers have to say

Drive results with a more secure, resilient network

Deploy faster with a strategic plan, migration strategy, and roadmap. Drive operational excellence with services to help improve security and visibility.

Watch your favorite cloud and data center videos

Get the latest updates on data center and cloud technology, upcoming features, and more.

For partners

Are you a Cisco partner?  Log in to see additional resources.

Looking for a solution from a Cisco partner? Connect with our Partner ecosystem.