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Thinking beyond the box: Why software-defined networks are the future
Thu, 14th Jun 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Enterprises are constantly under pressure to innovate, scale and deploy new services at speed all while trying to ensure costs remain low and the company stays secure. This has prompted businesses to look at how they can conduct their business in smarter, agiler ways.

As it turns out, an increasing number of businesses are starting with looking at their network and adopting software-defined networking (SDN) as their solution.

New global research by Longitude on behalf of Verizon Enterprise Solutions shows that while SDN adoption is still at a relatively early stage, and is only one part of the answer, it is fast becoming the must-have technology. Longitude surveyed 165 companies, of which 15% are already piloting or deploying SDN technologies—a stat that is set to rise to 57% within two years.

The big deal about SDN To be clear, though, the appeal of SDN isn't in the deployment of the technology itself—rather, it's the transformation power it enables.

Typically, network architectures consist of a control plane, management plane and a data plane, all of which are implemented in the system's firmware. SDN, however, removes the control plane from this setup and instead implements it within the software itself.

SDN gives organisations the ability to automatically and intelligently scale up and down as needed via software controls on a pay-as-you-go basis. As a result, SDN is the key to helping companies keep pace with the changing nature of their business environment by allowing them to be responsive to users, customers and market opportunities.

It also allows for significantly improved management, increased visibility and better automation, without the requirement of hardware, physical equipment and significant human intervention. This ensures that even if business models are required to evolve quickly in the face of digital disruption, businesses will have the IT infrastructure that enables them to flex, pivot and expand in parallel.

Perhaps the most compelling feature about SDN is the fact that the deployment time of these new technologies can in some cases be reduced from 500 days to as few as 65. By freeing up more time, organisations will have greater opportunity and freedom to focus on delivering products and services to customers.

One other significant feature is the ability to provide better visibility into what the network is doing. Rather than reporting on technical details like latency, jitter or SLA adherence, SDN allows users to report on application performance and end-user experience.

SDN is also enabling companies to move towards the era of embedded security. While embedded security is not a new concept, the network automation and orchestration gained via SDN delivers more data. The importance of this becomes obvious when 25% of all data breaches remain undiscovered by the victim for weeks, if not months.

But when armed with all the information about the network, IT executives are able to perform security analytics, leading to a much more secure outcome for the business.  This level of analytics helps to provide the initial entry steps into security automation when overlayed with accurate threat intelligence.

The risk of human error should also reduce in an SDN world, where those usual layers of complexities are removed and become more unified with simpler-to-use interfaces. 

Albeit this, in turn, can become a barrier to adoption, moving networking professionals from using a command line interface to web GUI management tools frequently requires process changes and training.

Taking the SDN leap Companies that are yet to consider SDN risk being left behind in the race for business agility. So, what's holding businesses back?

Primarily, organisations are concerned about the potential disruption and complexities involved in migrating existing networks to SDN.

Many of the organisations I have spoken to have also worried that they lack the right in-house IT skills and experience to handle the migration. Others have been concerned about upfront and other ongoing operational costs of SDN, versus the return on investment.

However, given the potential business impact of SDN, the ROI would far outweigh any associated costs. Plus, with the right support, the adoption of SDN is likely to be proven less risky and demanding than most fear.

Embracing any new technology will always appear to require a leap of faith into the unknown, but when armed with the right due diligence, planning and network provider this ‘leap' isn't as daunting as first thought.

Ultimately, SDN is here to stay. It is offering companies the ability to be agile, flexible, and secure all at the same time. What's not to like?