SDN and the Inevitable Enterprise Reorganization

The organizational challenges of SDN will force a transformation in the enterprise.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Aug 21, 2015
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It should be clear by now that if the enterprise is to thrive in the coming century, it must adopt SDN as a core networking strategy. A static, hardware-based network simply cannot meet all the demands of emerging, dynamic workflows.

But while necessity may be the mother of invention, cost and effort are the parents of implementation. The enterprise has a tough road to walk before it can begin the transformation into the agile, data-driven entity that many forward-thinkers envision.

One thing is certain: the amount of SDN activity to date is only a fraction of what’s to come. According to Research and Markets, the industry is expected to jump from today’s $2 billion valuation to more than $45 billion by the end of the decade, an 86 percent compound annual growth rate. Development is spread across a range of service and solution platforms covering everything from switches and controllers to security, analytics and management. And the technology is expected to be deployed universally, covering verticals ranging from banking and finance to manufacturing, retail, healthcare, government and education.

What isn’t well known at this point is exactly how SDN will impact the working lives of enterprise employees. This cultural impact could be more significant than the technology itself, says networking consultant Terry Slattery, and could emerge as an even greater impediment to implementation than cost or complexity. For network managers, the biggest stumbling block is likely to be the level of automation required of abstract networking, while many users may simply become overwhelmed by the application agility that is suddenly at their disposal. This is the primary reason why employee training should play a prominent role in any SDN upgrade strategy.

SDN will also raise the profile of Dev/Ops within the organization, according to market analyst Lee Doyle. With a software-based networking infrastructure, changes are implemented through code, preferably using an open, standards-based platform that enables functionality to accompany data and applications wherever they travel. This may require some organizations to rethink their entire hierarchical structures, replacing departments and units with cross-functional teams that bring together app users, compute, storage and networking specialists, data analysts and other stakeholders to create specialized data environments that support specific business functions.

At the same time, enterprise leaders will have to shed the myths and misconceptions that are already starting to take root around SDN, says Brocade’s Gary Denman. For one thing, SDN is not only for large organizations. Many small and mid-sized firms can benefit as well, particularly those venturing onto public, private and hybrid clouds. Additionally, SDN will not make network management obsolete, although it will change the role, and the skillsets required, of network admins. And, busting perhaps the biggest myth of all: SDN does not require full rip and replacement of legacy network infrastructure but can be implemented gradually and with little or no disruption.

Perhaps the worst thing the enterprise can do at this point is to ignore SDN, or even put it off for a later day. Like a tsunami, its approach is relentless. Eventually it will make landfall. At this point, the best thing the enterprise can do is wade as deeply into the SDN waters as possible in order to ride the wave, rather than be swept away with the wreckage.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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