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Gartner - Five steps to mainstream SDN success

30 Sep 14

Gartner's Andrew Lerner offers up five steps to prepare for SDN.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is a radical new approach to designing, building and operating networks that brings a degree of agility similar to what abstraction, virtualisation and orchestration have brought to server infrastructure.

Yet, as groundbreaking as the technology is, fewer than 1000 companies have implemented SDN and even fewer have expertise in the technology. Those with large SDN deployments include cloud and network service providers.

Here are five key steps to help mainstream organisations prepare for SDN.

1. Identify key drivers 

It is important to identify key drivers that SDN can address within the business. These include agility in provisioning workloads; improved management and visibility; reduced expenditure; network capacity optimisation; application performance; and long-term innovation.

Agility can reduce provisioning time for new applications by more than 80%, while an SDN also fosters global configuration consistency.

As far as costs are concerned, Gartner has found that SDN implementation can increase opex savings from $35 per virtual server per year to $100. Yet the biggest long-term benefit from SDN is its potential for independent innovation in both hardware and software.

2. Deploy opportunistic SDN 

In nearly all the SDN successes Gartner has witnessed, organisations have used an opportunistic approach instead of seeing deployment as an infrastructure upgrade.

One of the major benefits of an opportunistic deployment is that it allows for an incremental and pragmatic adoption of the technology. However, selection of an SDN solution should not be solely based on a single use case but a broader list of use cases and drivers.

3. Enable cross-functional collaboration 

Over the past 20 years, Gartner has observed that the majority of major technology changes fail to achieve their promise unless significant investment is also made toward changing culture and realigning resources. However, these changes cannot occur with a bottom-up approach. They require senior IT sponsorship and cross-functional collaboration. Unfortunately, many organisations still maintain functionally separate I&O teams.

For success to occur, networking, virtualisation/server, and application teams need to participate equally in the SDN evaluation process. Gartner has also found that DevOps methodologies can accelerate SDN. While not a requirement, several aspects of a DevOps philosophy can be used to shift culture in order to better adopt the new technology.

4. Allocate resources for investigation 

In 2013, several mainstream vendors announced, released or enhanced their strategic offerings in the SDN space, but have dramatically different architectures.

It is time for IT managers to get smart about the technology and allocate personnel resources to investigate SDN offerings. There are many new and innovative ways to address network requirements using SDN. Just don’t forget to explore all your options, including incumbent, non-incumbent and even open source.

5. Establish a line in the sand 

Network designers need to establish a line in the sand to ensure new networking investments include such SDN capability. This will help future-proof investments by supporting widely used protocols such as OpenFlow and VXLAN, as well as emerging northbound APIs.

Following these five steps identifies an incremental, pragmatic and strategic road map to leveraging SDN in your environment.

Andrew Lerner is a Gartner research director specialising in enterprise network architecture including SDN, data centres, LAN/WAN, WLAN, application delivery and DDI.

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