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SDN Strategy: Put Applications First

In 2015, the software-defined networking market reached $1.4 billion in value – a strong sign that it will continue to see widespread adoption. However, organizations face plenty of challenges with SDN that can prevent them from realizing the technology's full benefits. In order to ensure a successful SDN strategy, enterprises need to start their journey by implementing an application-first mindset.

While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on applications when dealing with networking technology, an application-first mindset encourages organizations to focus on the main function of a network, which is to deliver data and resources to end users that can lead to greater business success.  

Traditionally, as the foundation of application delivery, networks flagged which applications worked in the system and what changes needed to occur in order to integrate with app-specific features. This equation has now flipped, and applications are defining the network. With increased programmability, applications are taking the lead role in communicating what they need from the infrastructure. When an app says it needs more capacity, infrastructure should be able to react immediately. SDN provides the right capabilities required to facilitate this transition. Understanding how information flows between apps and networks underscores that SDN is truly for the benefit of applications.

There’s a tendency in the networking world to look at a new technology and ask, "How will this fit into an existing IT ecosystem?" An SDN framework alters traditional IT thinking of layering from the bottom-up, and makes the case for a top-down approach. In reorganizing infrastructure to accommodate better application development, deployment and delivery, the question then becomes, “How will other technologies interact with this new ecosystem?” Point-by-point replacement is never a good idea. Before pursuing an SDN deployment, IT needs to reevaluate what infrastructure is already in place and what updates need to be made so underlying systems can react quickly to changes caused by SDN.    

An app-first approach will encourage organizations to take a deep dive into its systems and identify if SDN would help solve application-delivery issues, or show that the business is attempting to use the technology to address other network dilemmas. The rate at which applications can be developed and deployed allows IT to become meaningful for the business, and while SDN may seem like a promising next step in advancing business functions, forgetting to evaluate the technology from an app-first perspective may lead to a failed SDN deployment. 

For IT decision makers considering a SDN deployment, network admins will always be an important group to engage with to determine whether SDN is a good option for the organization. But while these voices are influential in initial discussions, decision makers should also seek involvement from developers early on. Developers can tend to take a “rogue” approach, which sometimes leads to action without the appropriate tools or approvals when it comes to creating new apps in a timely manner.

While transformations may be happening on the backend of IT, developers are not always waiting for the green light to deploy cloud-ready apps. Because of this, they are able to dictate app composition and the rate at which new apps can be built, making them a driving force behind any network changes. This internal shift mandates that networks be orchestrated in a way that enables them to handle an increasing amount of traffic and quickly react to any changes to aid in application delivery. 

Just as there are many steps to a SDN deployment, there are many steps to determining if this platform is the best fit for your organization. Evaluating your application landscape needs to be the first priority.