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Software-defined Networking: trend or fad?


by Ron Irvine, HP Global Portfolio Consulting Director for Mobility and Networking


Ron Irvine.small.jpgIf you’ve been in the technology business a while, you seen fads come and go, and you’ve seen trends come and stay. How do you tell them apart? I’d like to show you what’s driving software-defined networking (SDN) and why SDN is a stayer that creates the transformation journey we will take—individually and as an industry.


First, let’s recognize the forces that are transforming IT—cloud, mobility, and Big Data. Cloud computing is recasting much of what IT used to do—and thousands of new applications—as a service. Mobile users are the consumer of those services. They require access anytime, anywhere. And Big Data is dramatically increasing both the amount and the kinds of information that can be delivered by the cloud and captured by the business from users.


But cloud, mobility, and Big Data are simply enablers. What they enable are new ways of connecting with customers, new products and services, and new business models. These new ways of doing business threaten existing businesses, so business leaders believe if they can step up, they will thrive and if they cannot, the business may not survive. The result: intense pressure on IT to enable rapid rollout of new services, for new consumers, in new locations—IT agility.


So how have our datacenter colleagues in servers and storage responded? Very well, in fact. If you look what they have done over the past decade, you see three phases:


Phase 1: Dedicated infrastructure. Each application required its own infrastructure with little sharing. Efficiency was poor—typical server utilization ran about 10%—so IT overprovisioned to meet unanticipated needs. Worse, new applications or major changes required that IT acquire and deploy additional infrastructure. IT responds in months.


Phase 2: Virtualization. Virtualization let multiple applications share the same infrastructure and greatly increased server and storage utilization. That was a real benefit, but it wasn’t actually the main one. What virtualization did was to allow administrators to dynamically provision new servers and storage in response to business needs. IT responds in days.


Phase 3: Application awareness. This is what cloud has brought us. APIs enable applications to interact with infrastructure to request the server and storage resources they require in the locations and volume they require it. IT responds in minutes.


Networking is stuck in phase 1. The network is brittle—we acquire and deploy network infrastructure in response to new programs and applications. We overprovision to account for unanticipated volumes. Just as virtualization and application awareness enabled server and storage technology—and technologists—to step up to business demands, they will enable networks to do that as well. SDN is virtualized networking that can make networks application-aware and able to respond to new demands in minutes rather than months.


The rest of the business is waiting for us. But standing where we are and looking at where we need to be can feel like standing at the edge of a huge chasm trying to make out the other side. The good news is that there is an orderly, evolutionary route to get there, and each organization can take the journey at the speed demanded by the business. We have created a methodology called Trusted Network Transformation to dramatically reduce the risk of the journey. My colleague Yanick Pouffary has blogged about it, so I’ll send you there for the details (HP Trusted Network Transformation: de-risk the journey to SDN). Even better, look for some of the sessions on SDN at HP Discover 2014, or read about HP Software-defined Networking here.


Ron Irvine is the HP Global Consulting Portfolio Director for Mobility and Networking. He has held positions in Portfolio at the world-wide, Americas and Canadian level, and has experience in alliances and sales. Prior to joining HP, Ron held senior positions in the Telecom industry in Canada.



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