Charting the Migration Path from Legacy Networks to SDN

Enterprise migration to software-defined networking (SDN) is in full swing, but this transition is about more than booting up some software and watching the architectures build themselves. In fact, migrating from legacy infrastructure to SDN is a fairly complicated processes with multiple decision points that can affect how well the new environment supports a given use case.

Migration services, integration and other aspects of deploying SDN and software defined storage (SDS) into existing infrastructure will make up a large portion of the overall software defined data center (SDDC) market, according to a recent study by QYResearch. The firm is predicting 26 percent compound annual growth over the next several years, with key players like VMware, Microsoft, EMC and Cisco generating the lion’s share of activity. The market is expected to see increased demand for consulting and evaluation services, as well as deployment and management capabilities.

A key aspect of SDN migration will be monitoring. Without proper insight into how virtual network environments are functioning among themselves and interacting with applications and underlying resources, the enterprise will struggle to evolve from basic functionality to optimized operations. SevOne recently released the new version of its SDN Monitoring Solution for Cisco ACI that features 10 interactive dashboards to provide visibility into both the virtual overlay and physical underlay of single- or multi-cluster deployments. The system provides real-time and historical insight into tenant and end-point group relationships, multi-APIC cluster status and fabric capacity. At the same time, users can extend visibility into related network systems such as firewalls, load balancers and WAN infrastructure.

As the transition to virtual networking unfolds, it is also likely that key aspects of legacy infrastructure and the SDN ecosystem will converge to the point where they are no longer considered discrete entities, says Masergy CTO Tim Naramore. For instance, the SD-WAN is currently considered a separate platform from the internal data center SDN, but as more workloads are pushed onto hybrid clouds, we can expect both systems to merge into an overarching network architecture. In essence, the functionality of wide area connectivity will be absorbed into regular network operations, turning it into yet another feature in a long list of capabilities needed to maintain connectivity between applications, data and user devices. In fact, recent estimates have shortened the timeline for this convergence from five to seven years to as little as 24 months.

SDN migration will not happen by itself, of course. Networking executives will need to follow a fairly rigorous conversion path in order to produce an environment that is best suited to their unique portfolio of applications and services, says Cisco’s Tapan Khatri. To start with, there needs to be a deep-dive network analysis covering such elements as security groups, workflows, virtual routing and forwarding (VRF) and contract relationships. When it comes time to actually introduce the SDN fabric to existing networks, you should start small with, say, a core L3 connection to move east-west traffic to border routers for hand-off to the Internet. From there, multiple options are available for uplinks, aggregation switches, physical ports and other resources, all of which will depend on your existing topology, migration timeline, application needs and other factors.

Systems integration, particularly when it involves both physical and virtual assets, is never a fun job. But if enterprise IT hopes to remain relevant in the coming decades, it must incorporate SDN and other virtual architectures in a big way. Users are already quite accustomed to the always-on/always-available service they receive from their mobile devices, which means their frustration level will only increase when they try to engage static legacy networks either as workers or customers.

And while it is true that many start-ups are launching services completely on cloud-based, virtual infrastructure, possession of legacy networks and data is actually a competitive advantage to established enterprises, not a liability. In the end, however, they can only be fully leveraged if they are empowered with the kind of operational flexibility that software definition brings to the table.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering Enterprise IT, telecommunications and other hi-tech industries.

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