National Principal Architect
  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN)

What is your strategy for software-defined networking (SDN)? Are you just starting to think about it? Are you already utilizing the technology and realizing the benefits it has to offer? Or do you have the building blocks in place but haven’t yet made the transition?

SDN is about agility.

Remember the client-server days? You know, when we had one application per server and dedicated storage. Back when the data center was filled with racks of underutilized resources, and it took days, weeks, or longer to rollout a new application.

Thankfully, virtualization technology changed all of that. Multi-tenancy allows computing resources (CPU, memory, and storage) to be shared by different applications, increasing resource utilization and efficiency, and lowering data center costs. With orchestration tools, provisioning resources and deploying new applications can be done much more quickly – what once took days/weeks now takes minutes/hours. That, in turn, enables IT to respond much faster to the changing needs of the business – which has never been more relevant than it is today.

SDN extends those same benefits to the data center network. Whether you choose Cisco ACI, VMware NSX, or an Open Source SDN as your solution, software-defined networking increases business agility. It does that by making it easier to configure changes to data center networks and by enabling an infrastructure that is conducive to new models, such as DevOps, for application and service delivery.

Besides improving agility, SDN helps lower costs. According to a worldwide SDN survey conducted by IDC (as stated in this itbizadvisor.com article), “about 50 percent of enterprise respondents reported OpEx savings of 10 percent to 20 percent from implementing SDN.” And the article goes on to say that “approximately 31 percent of respondents reported OpEx savings of 21 percent to 30 percent, while just 11.5 percent of respondents reported savings of less than 10 percent.”

These are compelling benefits for the data center network. But how does SDN apply outside of the data center?

SDN will proliferate more of the network.

SD-WAN is the first step toward extending SDN beyond the data center. It’s no longer a concept. It is reality. We saw increased SD-WAN traction in 2016, and many organizations are exploring use cases for the technology. In fact, according to Gartner predictions, 30% of enterprises will have deployed SD-WAN in their branches by 2020. You can read more about SD-WAN and our perspective on the technology in this newsletter article.

As time goes on, SDN proliferation will reach more parts of the network, including the local area network (LAN) and wireless. It’s too early yet for specifics. But work is being done, and we will likely see some movement in this area in 2017.

One thing is certain: migration to a software-defined IT architecture is a journey. And it takes time and planning.

It pays to keep a few things in mind.

Every organizations journey will be unique. But regardless of where you’re at today, here are a few suggestions that will help you navigate along the way:

  1. Remember that it is a journey, like migrating to the cloud. At some point, implementing a fully software-defined network end-to-end will be a reality. But we’re not there yet. It will take time. There are challenges to overcome. Technologies that still need to evolve. But similar to migrating to the cloud, you need to have a clear idea about what your priorities are, where you want to go, and how a software-defined strategy can help you get there.
  2. Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. This is not a one-time IT decision. Involve other areas of IT and the business and make certain to keep business objectives in mind as you evaluate different solutions. Be careful not to make point purchases. You don’t want to limit yourself later or have to spend more unnecessarily because of lack of scalability or integration capabilities.
  3. Make integration, scalability, and security important criteria for every solution. Whatever solution you implement, it will need to support open standards to minimize integration challenges later. Likewise, security and scalability are a must. You may not be able to completely anticipate what will come down the road, but be careful not to commit yourself to a solution that won’t handle future growth or security requirements.
As mentioned earlier, software-defined networking (SDN) is no longer limited to the data center. SD-WAN is quickly gaining adoption, and there is more to come. 

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