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5 steps to launching Software Defined Networking

Greg Stemberger, Principal Solutions Architect, Force 3 | April 11, 2016
SDN is a powerful technology with a wealth of benefits, but it must be properly implemented to get the results you want.

Although vendor-written, this contributed piece does not promote a product or service and has been edited and approved by Executive Networks Media editors.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) promises increased agility, enhanced security and automation—all while saving time and money.  But the prospect of adopting SDN may seem daunting because it is still a relatively new technology and few long-term examples exist to illustrate best practices for implementation.

Working with government and enterprise customers, I’ve seen a five-step process emerge for efficient, effective SDN implementation. Follow them to reap the benefits of SDN without disrupting your IT environment.

* Define a use case.  SDN is a broad, multi-faceted technology. Whether it fits in your organization depends on the problem you want to solve.  Too often I see organizations adopt or implement a technology—SDN included—in an attempt to solve all their problems. This is not the best approach for adopting SDN.

Instead, identify a narrow use case or problem that you believe SDN can solve. Whether that problem involves network automation, security or agility, the important thing is to start with just one.   

A single use case (with tangible, positive results) offers more reliable, measurable outcomes than implementing SDN across your entire network. Moreover, instead of explaining SDN’s value in abstract, you can proceed backed by proven success.

By familiarizing yourself and your colleagues with SDN on a gradual, focused, limited scope, you can adopt SDN and not disrupt your entire infrastructure and staff.

* Assemble a cross-functional team.  SDN is a silo-breaking technology. Implementing it correctly requires a well-rounded team with a broad range of skills and a comprehensive approach. Ideally, that team fosters efficiency and collaboration—both critical to maximize the benefits of SDN.

Consider, for example, a network security issue. To successfully address it with software-defined networking, you need people who define or write security policy, the network engineering team and those charged with network management. Just as importantly, though, you need them all working in tandem, or else something will be overlooked or left out of the solution.

Regrouping IT resources can be difficult. But, even with separation of duty, collaboration is crucial and achievable. It’s also the only way to ensure SDN success.

Remember, this isn’t about eliminating jobs, but increasing efficiency. This way, your IT staff spends less time on operational overhead and more time on engineering and enabling your IT infrastructure to better meet the needs of your mission.

* Test in a less critical network area.  Implementing SDN doesn’t require uprooting your entire network. That only leads to angry colleagues and massive risks as you struggle to manage an unfamiliar network.

Just as you tested SDN using a limited use case, the same principle applies to testing it on the network. Find a less critical network area where you can work without disturbing the network as a whole.


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