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The road to SDN

/ 8 April, 2015

sdnAs businesses try to slim down their IT budgets, SDN could prove to be a money saving solution if done correctly – particularly in the world of SMBs where the bottom line is king. However, without a solid roadmap in place, the transition could be a waste of resources at best.

SDN offers businesses plenty of benefits. Simplification of network design and operation, directly programmable network control, and centralised network intelligence based on SDN controllers that maintain a global view of the network are just a few of the emerging architecture’s most attractive elements.

The dynamic growth of computing and storage needs has put the static nature of conventional networks to the test. The ever-rising popularity of smart mobile devices, cloud services, and Big Data collection and analysis have driven the need for a more agile, flexible and powerful network paradigm.

However, businesses looking to make the move to SDN should take the time to examine their needs before beginning the process. Ashley Woodbridge, Customer Solutions Architect, Cisco UAE, offers that the first question a business should ask is why. He explains, “SDN delivers speed and agility when deploying new applications and business services, giving businesses a more nimble infrastructure, while reducing infrastructure costs and overhead. Which is all good of course, but if an organisation isn’t ready to embrace all of that, then they won’t see the benefit.”

Woodbridge goes on, “Typically, what we see is that the organisations that have embraced cloud or virtualisation in their data centre environment, or have started the journey down that path, are the ones that benefit most from SDN.”

Switching to SDN can potentially save an organisation money and time, but the process will inevitably cause a disruption. The size and impact of that disruption must be taken into consideration. Cherif Sleiman, General Manager, Middle East, Infoblox reminds those exploring SDN solutions, “With the adoption of SDN, there is a blurring of lines between applications and services, and the networks that they ride on. This will require new organisational models in terms of accountability, responsibility and governance. The organisation needs to determine if it is culturally agile enough to be able to realign internal teams to meet these requirements.”

There is certainly a global trend of businesses adopting SDN, however it seems that, regionally, adoption has been cautious. To this end, Sleiman makes a prediction about the unique opportunity that businesses within the Middle East are faced with. “I think we have the opportunity in the Middle East to leapfrog other countries across the world as we don’t have a lot of legacy infrastructure and as a result the transition and migration isn’t as complicated,” he says.

Shashi Kanth, Senior Manager, Big Data Practice & Open Compute Infrastructure, StorIT Distribution, acknowledges that the region’s uptake has been lower than other markets. “The adoption rate of SDN in the US and Europe is growing at a fast pace, and the adoption of SDN in the Middle East is slow at the moment,” he adds. “However, there is increased uptake with government organisations and PSUs. This will include enterprise and SMEs in the years to come.” With governments and PSU’s leading the way, it is possible that companies in the Middle East can match and surpass the average rate of SDN adoption.

Kanth also explains the benefits that a company stands to gain by switching to SDN. “It allows data centre switches to be managed in the same manner as servers. Network administrators who adopt open networking leverage familiar switching and routing features provided by the Linux OS,” he says. “Server administrators use their existing Linux tools as they deploy open networking to support VMware vSphere, OpenStack, Big Data, and other application environments. DevOps teams benefit from the ability to innovate at a faster pace.”

The benefits of SDN are not limited to the IT department. Organisations that employ SDN solutions are sure to see the difference in their bottom lines as well. Nachiket Deshpande, Vice President and Global Delivery Head, Infrastructure Services, Cognizant explains. “SDN makes significant financial sense for decision-makers,” he says, “One of the financial benefits of SDN is reduced provisioning time, which has a rolling effect on business agility that directly translates into cost savings.”

On the other side of the coin, the potential issues in the adoption SDN solutions need to be considered. Virtualisation is a fundamental component to SDN, and this poses certain challenges. Deshpande acknowledges, “One of the major challenges posed by virtualisation is latency. As networks become faster and businesses get digitised with Big Data and the Internet of Things-related data bursts, the role played by SDN will have to be carefully observed.”

It must also be acknowledged that change itself can pose a challenge to any organisation, and moving to SDN is no small change. As a company considers switching to SDN, one has to ask if SDN networks last for the foreseeable future.

Sudhir Sanil, Field Systems Engineering Manager, F5 Networks, weighs in on SDN networks, and what the future holds for business networking. “When you really think about SDN, I think the future is going to include a combination of both hardware and software. SDN addresses the IT challenges by operationalising the network to create a more flexible, programmable data centre that can rapidly respond to requirements for new services and changing network conditions. I definitely believe that SDN will be for the long haul.”

However, this confidence in the long-lasting life span of SDN is not universal. Sleiman expounds a cautious optimism for the technology. “SDN is still in the early adoption phase and so in my opinion, it is still too early to tell,” he says, adding, “Yes, SDN holds tremendous promise and there is strong momentum in the industry, but at the same time SDN poses a fundamental disruption to a number of large organisations which could lead to resistance that may either delay its adoption or kill the entire initiative. My personal take is that SDN will definitely become mainstream but it will take some time.”

Though opinions may vary, the fact of SDN’s increasing growth rate are undeniable. As business begin to adopt SDN adoption plans, we will surely see the trend grow both regionally and globally.