Software-defined networking (SDN) is one of the newest technologies to enter the data center, but as many enterprise executives are finding out, it represents more of a strategic change to infrastructure than a simple technology upgrade.
SDN, probably more than virtualization on server and storage infrastructure, alters the relationships between data, applications and users, opening up entire new possibilities in the ways digital services can be delivered and consumed.
For the enterprise, then, it is just as important to develop an SDN strategy as it is to assess and deploy the leading platforms. Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise’s Joe Raccuglia says revolves around three fundamental aspects of virtual networking: safeguarding operations from vulnerable IoT deployments, protecting against DDoS attacks and implementing service-based deployment methods. Each of these elements must strike a balance between protecting and managing resources and constraining functionality, while at the same time transitioning enterprise networks from a capex to an opex development model.
SDN may solve a lot of problems, says CSO Online’s Kacy Zurkus, but security isn’t one of them. In interviews with multiple IT experts, she finds that consolidating network operations on the controller makes the entire data environment susceptible to disruption, unless the enterprise expands its security and networking strategies in tandem. This requires disparate teams to unite under a common DevOps framework to craft solutions that address both the vulnerabilities that SDN introduces and the operational flexibility it is supposed to provide.
It is also important to an SDN strategy to recognize that as the network evolves so too will the enterprise. Scott Petty, group enterprise technology director at Vodafone, notes that SDN changes the way networks are designed, sourced and deployed, likely doing away with the tight vendor relationships that have solidified over the years. Instead, the enterprise will gravitate toward a more homogeneous environment where integration and configuration take precedence over upgrades and maintenance. SDN adoption will also move hand-in-hand with the cloud, as organizations planning to implement a large number of cloud-native applications will likely employ SDN to a greater extent than those that do not.
And of course, SDN is only the first step toward a fully software defined data center (SDDC), which means the enterprise will have to plan for the day when all infrastructure management becomes a matter of writing and tweaking code rather than maintaining physical machines. As Dell-EMC’s Brian Carpenter points out, this will allow organizations to craft highly customized data environments for themselves. It will be up to business leaders to determine exactly how they are to be folded into emerging strategic initiatives.
All of this is rather a lengthy way of saying that SDN is more of a journey than a destination. The very idea that abstract networks can be reconfigured practically on a whim turns the notion of data infrastructure on its head — from something that is utilized to something that is experienced.
To manage this transition successfully, the enterprise needs to determine how to use SDN long before if figures out how to build it.
Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high tech industries.