I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your network probably isn’t ready for software-defined networking in your data center. This statement isn’t meant to put anyone down, nor should it discourage efforts to get to an SDN-ready state. It is, however, a reality check that should help IT infrastructure architects focus on what needs to be added or strengthened prior to looking at SDN technologies. In other words, let’s not put the cart before the horse.
I must also point out that other forms of SDN, such as software-defined WAN are far easier to implement, and you may already have all the pieces in place to start your SDN journey at the WAN. But aspiring for end-to-end SDN -- or even just SDN within the data center -- is a far greater challenge to take on. Reasons why most IT departments aren’t ready generally fall into one of two categories:
1. Your infrastructure isn’t ready. This could be either hardware-related, software-related, or both. The point here is that an infrastructure must achieve an SDN-ready state across the board before SDN technologies can be implemented and put to use. Even if your infrastructure is 99% of the way there, it’s not good enough.
2. Your organization isn’t ready. Both from a business perspective and an IT department perspective, decisions must be made in order to take full advantage of SDN. Additionally, once an SDN roadmap is established -- based on sound business drivers -- IT must figure out how SDN will be supported.
On the following pages, we’re going to dive into these two categories and point out six specific steps that must be completed before SDN can be implemented in the data center. Think of them as obstacles that must be overcome before SDN can be considered. And by skipping one or more obstacles, you set yourself up for failure once you transition to a next-generation infrastructure utilizing software-defined technologies.
If you’ve started investigating your own SDN migration path, we’d love to hear about where you are, what problems you are facing and ultimately, what real-world benefits you think SDN can provide.
Insufficient understanding of corporate applications
In order to get the most out of SDN in the data center, infrastructure architects must have a sound understanding of how applications work. Who interacts with the application and in what capacity? What dependencies do the applications have? What is the optimal path(s) for application data to take? All these questions will help you to build application profiles to tell the network how to handle the application data as it traverses the data center. Without this knowledge, SDN is useless.
Network hardware/software isn't ready
Before you get to a fully functioning SDN, your first goal is to be running in hybrid mode. This is where the data center hardware and software are operating in both a legacy and SDN modes. But running in a hybrid mode long term is not ideal as support staff will be stretched thin. The goal should be to get to a hybrid state, then transition to a pure SDN mode as quickly as possible. The key to all of this is to make sure that your current infrastructure hardware and software is capable of SDN. In most cases, not everything will be, requiring upgrades or replacements.
Incomplete server and storage virtualization migrations
To get the full benefits of virtualizing network processes, the infrastructure team should first complete the process of full server and storage virtualization. By not virtualizing/containerizing as many servers as possible, you miss many of the benefits inherent in SDN data center technologies.
(Image: Beate Kaspar/Wikimedia Commons)
Old organizational structure
In most enterprise organizations, application and IT infrastructure teams work independently from one another and often are managed in completely different IT sub-departments. But in an SDN world, these two teams will need to be tightly integrated. Applications will soon become the network traffic cop that dictates how data is handled. Because of this, the networking and application teams will see a great deal of crossover as it relates to configuring application profiles.
Insufficient SDN support skills
Even if your physical IT infrastructure is ready for SDN, could your IT staff support it? You may have the architectural brain power to design and implement the latest and greatest SDN data center, but you probably are thin on support engineers who understand SDN well enough to maintain and troubleshoot it.
Even within the past 24 months, the concept of SDN -- and what benefits it can bring to the table -- has shifted from one that focuses solely on network virtualization and automation to one geared towards taking on the rapid changes of network resources from an application point of view. And before many of us really start to begin integrating SDN into production networks, that focus may change again. So needless to say, SDN strategies and five-year SDN roadmaps are difficult to nail down right now. While companies can undoubtedly focus on specific pain points (such as SD-WAN) that have well-defined scopes, methodologies and technologies, end-to-end SDN and full data center SDN implementations continue to be theoretical topics in most circles. The focus should be on reaching an SDN-ready state rather than getting too wrapped up in implementing SDN technologies themselves.
- Andrew Froehlich
- Connect Directly
6 Reasons Your Network Isn't Ready For SDN
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