SDN for Reduced Opex-Myth or Reality

SDN for Reduced Opex-Myth or Reality

Sarav Radhakrishnan, Principal Engineer in Cisco's Enterprise Networking Group

The blog was published in Dataquest

Are you ready to capture the SDN wave and make the most of it for your business?

If you run a service-oriented IT company in India, think I about this - how often do you have to provision a new client account that you have won, or have a new I employee joining or an existing employee leave the organization? Most of you would say 'Yes'. Every time a new client comes on board a significant part of the operating expenses and time are allocated to this process. Network engineers have to provision VLANs, open up firewall holes to allow access, block access, or prioritize some applications. Is there a technology trend that is helping rescue this situation to help companies save not only operating expenses but free up time for their IT department to consider more innovation and less management?

The answer lies in a very widely spoken of trend in today's world–SDN or Software defined networking. Software Defined Networking (SDN) means different things to different experts in the industry. With proliferation in the number of devices that 'connect' to the network, we need to look at SDN as a way to address one of the key asks from numerous customers, the biggest being 'manageability'. Most IT experts view SDN as a way to address their manageability issues in the network. And why not? SDN is emerging as a tool to address these significant and growing concerns among business leaders.

A recent Forrester commissioned survey indicated that the typical IT department spends 80% of their time on operations against innovation. The same survey also found that 55% of the CMOs were of the opinion that the IT department was not fast enough in responding to time- sensitive projects, which in turn results in 57% of CEOs being worried about the IT strategy not supporting the growth of their business.

What the business leaders need therefore, is an agile IT environment. But what is meant by a more agile IT infrastructure? There are several tenets to faster IT.

An agile IT setting is one where there is less time spent on troubleshooting, configuration, and security and more time spent on rolling out new services which complement the agility of business. Based on the same Forrester survey, it was determined that the time available for other activities (read business innovation) would increase by 36% in a faster IT environment.

An agile IT infrastructure responds to business needs in a much swifter manner, and enables faster business growth. It does this by enabling open APIs and providing a platform running analytics.

An agile IT ecosystem has security as a fundamental building block where threats are detected and mitigated quickly.

Now that the attributes of an agile IT environment have been established, it is critical to understand the transition process from an existing 'slow' IT set-up to a more robust and faster one. The answer lies in SDN. SDN can be used to build an application centric infrastructure, which can effectively change the language used by customers from 'how' to 'what'. Currently, a significant amount of time is spent on going through voluminous documentation to determine how a solution actually needs to be configured, and in most cases, it deters customers from enabling those solutions that can help the business. What we would need to ensure easy role out of solutions, is a controller that is built on the basic premise of an application, i.e., an application centric controller.

Based on the analysis done in one of the large IT companies, an application centric infrastructure would result in significant savings when it comes to network provisioning, operations and management. It proves how any enterprise can benefit from SDN as a technology using the API controller.

Let's look at an example of how this case help today take the example of a scenario where the customer would like to provision the devices in the network for end-to-end quality of service behaviour. In the current model, the customer would need to do the following:

(a) Customers need to get an inventory of all the devices in the network

(b) They would need to look into the manual for each of the devices to determine how to enable QoS (Quality of Service) on the device

(c) They would also need to be aware of how the configuration would work end-to-end for this application.

If there is any issue in the application experience, they would need to again get into each of the device to determine if there is any missing configuration or misconfiguration. Needless to say, this takes a considerable amount of time from their perspective. Let's flip over to what would happen with application-centric controller. Customers would like to guarantee the application performance for their business critical applications. The controller is aware of end-to-end network, its capabilities and the configuration mechanism. Therefore, the sequence changes to:

(a) Customers, via an Ul on the controller, indicate all business critical applications

(b) They determine the desired behaviour for these applications

(c) The controller provisions the network for the desired behaviour

While this is just one example, it is representative of how SDN can help reduce operating expenses in the today's IT companies. There are several other reasons why SDN would complement the capabilities in the network to improve business processes and help achieve the outcome that the network is built for –are you ready to use this?

This is just one example representing the huge possibilities in the SDN spectrum. Improving business processes to complement network abilities is the ultimate goal of the network. Are you ready to capture the SDN wave and make the most of it for your business?

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