Top 5 Considerations in Transitioning to Software-Defined Networking (SDN) for the Digital Workplace

By: Ahmad El Soufi, SE Manager, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

 

Today’s workplace is changing dramatically. People are using mobile devices to connect to one another and to the applications and information they need to access. Cloud computing models now enable new levels of business agility. Social networking and unified communications allow workers to be innovative in how, when and where they collaborate. 

 

In addition, organizations are increasingly leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive big data analytics that address the real-time needs of employees and customers. IoT devices are also being used to enhance and optimize business processes—automated booking of meeting rooms, or detection of empty floors and automatic dimming of lights and turning off heating/air condition, to cite just two examples. 

 

For IT and networking professionals, the transformation to this new “digital workplace” is both exciting and challenging. It is an opportunity to transition to a more agile, cloud-hosted and service-centric delivery model, but it also means that enterprise IT teams must modernize their underlying infrastructures. In particular, IT must modernize the mobile networks that are at the center of every activity and application in the digital workplace. 

 

Workplace transformation can only be successful once you build a network infrastructure that can drive new levels of simplicity, mobility, reliability, security and agility. This change is the driving force behind a major shift toward software-defined networking (SDN). In SDN, the network forwarding functions are separated from the control functions. This enables programmable networks that can rapidly adapt to business applications. 

 

Companies across many industries are already using SDN to reduce costs, drive agility and accelerate time to market. One organization lowered hardware costs by as much as 90% and another improved performance of a critical application by up to 40%. These are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of 2020, SDN is expected to influence nearly 80% of all network purchase decisions[1].

 

Gartner cites four key benefits of SDN[2]:

• Improved agility by allowing for external control and automation of the network 

• Simplified management by improving operational efficiencies 

• Cost savings with the ability to lower Capex and Opex 

• Increased innovation by decoupling network hardware and software 

 

However, while the transition to SDN is the clear objective for network decision-makers, the path to SDN offers a broad range of choices. Do you choose an open solution or a proprietary one? Do you have to replace your existing infrastructure? Is there an easy migration path to SDN? What are some successful applications and use cases? 

 

We examine the top five factors you should consider as you transition to SDN:

 

No. 1: An end-to-end model incorporating data center, campus, branch and mobile networks

One of the biggest opportunities with SDN is to quickly provision applications on the network. Applications are typically deployed in the data center and used by workers in campus or branch offices or, increasingly, those who are mobile and using mobile devices. In the digital workplace, the notion of separate campus, branch and remote access networks disappears. Your SDN vendor should have an end-to-end strategy that incorporates the data center, campus, branch and mobile networks as one integrated solution—not as individual components. 

 

Another characteristic of the digital workplace is that workers need to be connected to their data and apps and to one another—wherever they are located and whatever device they are using. This is becoming more important as organizations continue to embrace cloud models. Workers who use their phone or tablet to connect to a business application and access a cloud-based business service need the same security and quality-of-service policies as anyone else on the network. 

 

No. 2: Support for open standards

SDN offers organizations the opportunity to utilize programmable networks to rapidly align to business applications, driving innovation and new levels of agility. However, in order to maximize the benefits of SDN, the network must be built on open standards with support for an open ecosystem. You want to ensure that everyone can participate—partners, customers and developers. Proprietary solutions are a relic of the past.

 

The benefits of utilizing an open standards approach to SDN include: 

• Freedom to use best-of-breed technologies wherever they are required, and not be limited to the solutions of a single vendor 

• Cost efficiencies by having and exploiting many more choices 

• Ease of adoption in a multi-vendor environment 

• Ability to leverage a broader ecosystem and an easily accessible marketplace to drive innovation 

• An investment that protects you for the future as technologies and standards continue to evolve

 

No. 3: A solution that doesn’t force you to replace existing infrastructure

One of the first questions IT leaders ask in the face of transformative change is whether (and how) they can protect their existing investments. While some network vendors may require you to replace existing equipment, that type of approach is not necessary with SDN—nor is it recommended. You want to move to SDN in an orderly and evolutionary manner that is not disruptive. This allows you to retain as much of your existing infrastructure as possible. 

 

The ideal way to evolve to SDN is through the use of a hybrid SDN solution that supports both SDN and traditional networking. A hybrid solution can assist in ease of adoption, whereby the SDN application can be deployed in a multivendor environment. 

 

In a hybrid environment, an OpenFlow-enabled switch is deployed at the edge—where the application is accessed—leaving the rest of the network intact. You can simply flip a switch to a mode that enables you to go back to traditional networking. This gives you much more flexibility to fit the network to meet your specific application and workload requirements. You can also reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) by extending the lifecycle of existing equipment.

 

No. 4: Proven solutionswith real-world use cases

While SDN is clearly the networking architecture of the future, today’s reality is that leading vendors are already enabling customers in all industries to use SDN to improve agility, simplify management and gain a competitive business advantage.

 

No. 5: A network partner with an ecosystem that supports a broad range of applications 

Why wait to deploy SDN when you can deliver measurable benefits to your business today? One of the keys to accelerating your deployment of SDN is to work with a network partner that already has an ecosystem of proven applications. This is an area where HPE has demonstrated innovation—by deploying the industry’s first SDN app store, where there have been a number of applications that have been deployed at customer sites. 

 

Before the advent of the app store, SDN solutions were tested and purchased separately. The app store has lowered the barrier to innovation and allows you to focus on business outcomes. Solutions are integrated seamlessly and ready to install with a simple download.

 

Taking the Next Step

Software-defined networking is an important enabling technology for the digital workplace. SDN enables a network infrastructure that is more reliable, agile and cost-efficient than legacy networks, making it much more suitable for today’s cloud and mobile era. For IT and network decision-makers, today’s network investments have to support the SDN infrastructure of tomorrow. 

 

It is critical to work with a vendor with industry-leading experience, expertise and technology.

 

 

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