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Is SDN the Right Tool for Your Organization?

by Michael Edwards, on Apr 28, 2016 11:54:19 AM

Everyone loves new technology. Consumers want the latest new and improved smart device and businesses want technologies that can help them achieve a competitive advantage. But, sometimes -- OK, a lot of the time – business owners can get a gleam in their eye about the latest and greatest technology that they think will save their business time and money. Software Defined Networking (SDN) is one of these.

SDN has been around for a while but it is still a relatively new technology in terms of how many organizations deploy it. Businesses that embrace SDN do so to increase the agility, flexibility and security of their network. In many cases SDN may actually do this, but in others the business may not get the benefits it was hoping for. This is because technology is a tool and not a cure all.

When GTRI works with customers on an SDN project, we start from the top-down. We work with customers to:

  • Understand their application requirements and how those might translate into software defined network services.
  • Review their network design to see how SDN technologies would integrate into their current networks.
  • Determine if the engineering and support staff require training to embrace and support new SDN services.
  • Create a road-map for a successful SDN implementation, sometimes, by not implementing SDN at all.

Application requirements almost always drive network design. As such, applications will dictate whether or not SDN will provide business value. For example, if your applications are dynamic and easily scaled by adding compute nodes then SDN is a great fit. These types of applications are most commonly associated with web scale services such as those provided by Amazon, Facebook and Google. These applications lend themselves well to SDN because they are scaled in a repeatable manner.

However, if your applications are static and rarely change unless there is a forklift upgrade or other wholesale change, then SDN might not be as beneficial. These types of applications are most commonly associated with traditional enterprise applications such e-mail, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). For applications like these we spend time with the customer to see if SDN services such as microsegmentation, enhanced network visibility and telemetry, or application health scores, would provide benefits to the customer, or if enhancing the design of their current network to add additional availability and stability would be of greater benefit.

In a sense, all networks are software defined. Network engineers have always interacted with software to configure and modify networks. What SDN provides is a way for engineers to do that in a more efficient and scalable manner, in turn allowing networks to react to the increasing number of changes in some business environments.

GTRI encourages our customers to go into an SDN project with their eyes wide open. Like all technology, SDN is a tool, and if SDN is not the right tool for your business at this time you are likely to spend more looking for a way to make the tool work then solving your business problems.

Michael Edwards is a Principal Architect in Professional Services at GTRI.

Topics:NetworkingSDNsoftware defined networking

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