Software Defined Networking: Why IT Executives Can't Underestimate the Importance of Their Digital Plumbing
The sheer number of infrastructure, platform, and software as a service options available to companies has never been greater. The velocity of new services becoming available shows no signs of slowing down. While each company must evaluate providers, services, and cost structures that best meet their business, technical, and operational priorities, one thing remains the same—the network enabling these services, from completely outsourced solutions to hybrid offerings, must be flexible, reliable, and cost effective—enter Software Defined Networking (SDN).
The days of monolithic network transport as a means to simply get data from a fixed-point A to a fixed-point B are long gone. To stay competitive, companies need the ability to connect new services to their networks quickly and roll out these services to their user and/or customer bases as rapidly as possible. AWS, Azure, and GCP have reduced the provisioning times of infrastructure from weeks to minutes. This agility has allowed organizations to experiment with ways to meaningfully increase revenue or improve customer experience in ways that were not possible 10 years ago. The most successful deployments, however, particularly those that are at a large scale, require a properly implemented network strategy that includes SDN and orchestration at its core. SDN enabless the flexibility to turnup and deliver new services as quickly as sales, marketing, and engineering talent can think them up. Waiting 30-45 business days for a new circuit is no longer an option.
As more companies either rewrite legacy applications or develop “the next big thing” on XaaS platforms to take advantage of new features that seem to be rolled out daily, reliable and rapid access to these systems becomes more and more important—in fact, it has become table stakes. If the finance department can’t access the new cloud-based accounting system, or customers can’t place their orders on a company’s new e-commerce site due to network connectivity issues, otherwise-successful projects are discounted by the C-Suite, or worse, a company’s customers. While building redundancy and self-healing into networks used to be a very complex—and often expensive—endeavor, that is no longer the case. Vendors, including hardware manufacturers, cloud and network-services providers, and network-management platforms now offer integration with each other to identify issues within a network, and autonomously adjust which networks and routes are used to increase network performance and remediate issues before they end up as front-page news on Google.
All of the advantages that software defined infrastructure offers, whether it be access to computing, storage, security or network services in the cloud, mean nothing if the infrastructure doesn’t provide services at a cost point that is attractive and a better alternative to the traditional capital expense model companies have used for acquiring IT hardware and software— assuming that no longer works for them. In the past, the ability to create flexible network solutions involved the integration of complex APIs— with potentially reduced functionality— to increase cross-vendor compatibility, and senior-level staff resources to design, implement, and manage these networks. Complete, turnkey solutions are now available from single vendors to handle everything from circuit and logical network design, to very robust network visibility and management capabilities, as well as full management of the solution, if that is desired.
From an overly simplistic perspective, networks are the digital plumbing that enable emails to flow, sales teams to update their Salesforce forecasts, and, perhaps most importantly to the bottom line—for services and goods to be consumed faster and easier than ever. In other words, agile networks equal revenue generation. Networks enable financial transactions, directly impact customer satisfaction (think of the frustration of the spinning icon when Netflix is loading), as well as dozens of other aspects that are critical to the operation of a 21st century business. Therefore, it is no surprise that selecting and purchasing network services has become such a focal point for companies of all sizes, and across all industry verticals. More than ever before, companies should be evaluating the providers, services, and infrastructure available at all of their locations— whether that bean office, the data center or the cloud.