IT organizations are constantly facing pressure to increase efficiency and agility in their data centers in order to meet enterprise demands. While SDN promises faster provisioning times, improved visibility, and greater network flexibility, it has yet to really take off. Few businesses that implemented an SDN architecture in 2015 reported successful deployments that lowered costs and increased productivity. Instead, most enterprises felt the sting of complex deployments and scaling issues they weren't prepared to handle due to under-skilled IT staff.
It's no doubt that 2015 was the year of learning curves for SDN. However, with a brand new year coming up, we believe 2016 will be the year enterprises begin to fully realize the benefits of SDN as we learn from early deployment mistakes.
As cloud becomes more commonplace and the Internet of Things knocks on the door, enterprises will need to adapt to meet growing demands. There's still work to be done before businesses can turn to SDN as a main method for driving overall results, and next year will no doubt be a year of critical progress. The five recommendations outlined here will help ensure your SDN deployment tops the list of successes for in 2016.
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Make sure your approach is top-down, application-first
The reliance on applications continues to grow, and apps are no longer just around for the ride on the network. Applications have become the focus of IT and are increasingly "network fluent," or able to directly express to the network what they want from it. Until now, it has been the network that has been tasked with tailoring itself to application-specific needs. However, with the advent of SDN, the network can be dynamically programmed in a highly granular fashion -- through the app itself. By focusing on IT's primary goal of delivering apps and services to users, the necessity of SDN becomes even more apparent and imperative.
Don't overestimate the skills of your staff
Prepare your workforce before deployment. Traditional networks are very different from software-defined networks as outlined above. IT professionals will find that some of the skills they needed to manage physical hardware are ineffective in virtualized settings. Staff must adopt a new set of skills that will allow them to program and manage their new networking infrastructure so enterprises can fully reap the benefits of SDN. However, this is a process that must take place before deployment so that IT teams are prepared to handle curveballs as they arise.
Don't jump the gun on deployment
Figure out your business needs. For the most part, SDN is still a shiny new object and those enamored by it must take a step back and ask, "Will SDN help my business?" While the technology is full of promise, organizations rushing to take part might later fail if they don't understand their real business needs and how SDN can support them. Before deploying SDN, it is important to first consider how it'll help the organization achieve its objectives or if other alternatives will suffice.
Set realistic goals and deadlines
Your mother was right when she said, "haste makes waste." SDN can reduce provisioning time from weeks to seconds, but IT teams should not expect their deployments to go as quickly as that. Organizations that are serious about investing in restructuring their network infrastructure will need to plan carefully. The number of vendors in the SDN market continues to increase, and IT must take the time to choose those that best accommodate their needs. As mentioned earlier, there is a steep learning curve that staff will need to overcome. This will require countless hours spent learning new skills, it also means you should leave room for plenty of trial and error while your staff figures out what works best.
Be practical and understand SDN's challenges
Each new technology comes with its set of limitations. Take the iPhone, for example. It has improved drastically since its first iteration, as developers figure out ways to add new functionality to accommodate consumer needs. Organizations expecting a perfect and complete SDN solution that will fix all of their networking challenges will find themselves disappointed. Fortunately, SDN is designed to evolve along with the organizational needs -- unlike traditional networks, which are static in nature.
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