SDN: What Do CIOs Need to Know? - Page 2

CIOs considering SDN have a lot to think about. What changes will it bring, what are its use cases and business benefits, and what challenges does it create?

By Jude Chao | Posted Nov 21, 2013
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What SDN means for IT staffing                              

These major changes to enterprise IT processes will mean major changes to IT departments themselves, according to Shah. SDN won't kill networking jobs, but it will demand a change in skillsets as it shifts the balance of IT staff. Enterprises will need fewer junior-level employees for manual management of data center equipment and more senior-level DevOps staffers, who combine programming and IT backgrounds, he said.

These engineers don't need to know how to write operating systems, Shah clarified. "They're more oriented towards scripting, tool chains, basically the type of programming required in an IT context. And the drivers for these engineers and how they operate will really be around what the business requires and how they can optimize business operations." This new IT workforce will be well-positioned to help CIOs achieve greater business value for their organizations.

Related to the transition to DevOps will be the convergence of IT silos, which Shah predicted will "absolutely" happen.

"If I'm a CIO, what I have to worry about is this spiraling need of expertise across a variety of domains. I can't hire the super senior person across all these different domains. So I'm going to leverage somebody that can look over multiple domains and understand how to get them configured and up and running. This is where DevOps is transformational. I now get someone who's got deep expertise in automation scripts," he said. This person will be able to look at the end-to-end flow of data center operations and program the infrastructure to make it work.

Also key to SDN's impact on IT will be the greater ease of monitoring and maintenance that virtualized infrastructures can provide by virtue of their reporting abilities. "If I have everything existing in a manner that's exposable to software, I also have something that can be instrumented to give me a lot of readings," Shah said. Those readings can provide a comprehensive view of the health of the network, unified in a single dashboard for administrators' consumption. In addition, vendors can write their software to provide guidance on identifying and resolving problems, reducing the need for an expert to triage and diagnose the issue.

Current challenges of SDN

Before CIOs can achieve the changes SDN promises, however, they need to address some challenges. Top on the list of challenges, Shah said, is education. At this point, enterprise networks have had a solid two decades to evolve into their current state, and so have enterprise networking and IT departments. "There's a lot of legacy that we have to overcome. Getting the escape velocity is going to be tricky," he said. To overcome that legacy, Shah insists that CIOs learn everything they can about SDN. "There are no strong certification classes you can take around SDN or the surrounding technology yet—that will likely change in the next year or two, but it's still at a nascent stage," he said. In the absence of structured opportunities for SDN education, Shah recommends reading about SDN online and inviting vendors to discuss SDN solutions.

"There's a degree of cynicism whenever someone running a data center talks to a vendor, because a vendor obviously has an agenda, but it gives you a frame of reference," Shah said. Vendors can put the products you already have, and with which you are already familiar, in context and explain how their SDN offerings would change your data center. "At least at that point you can make an educated decision about whether that's the way you want it to go, and figure out your strategy based on that," he told me.

Closely tied to the problem of education is the change in tools that SDN will bring to the data center. "We've got a lot of tools and an intuitive understanding of our networks, and those will all change. We need to reexamine what our tool chain looks like and what kinds of things we need to successfully run a data center network," Shah said. Here, meeting with different vendors to understand what SDN solutions they offer, and how those solutions work, may also prove helpful.

Next page: SDN and virtualization vendors to watch

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