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SDN is evolutionary, not revolutionary

Bonnie Gardiner | July 16, 2015
The need to support increasingly complex and virtualised environments with greater agility is driving considerable change in data networking.

Service providers too will come to rely on SDN to deal with high data loads on mobile and video networks now putting strain on the finite resources of the network operator, says McGregor. Network functions visualization (NFV), the service provider equivalent of SDN, is critical to being able to turn on products and services for an enterprise customer on demand.

"Traditionally a customer will decide to buy a product or service, place an order, the provider would go and buy the piece of physical equipment and store it somewhere in the network, provision it, and put that person's IP address on it, all of which would normally take up to 90 days," says McGregor.

"NFV enables them to simply turn on a piece of software to deliver what used to be a physical delivery mechanism, meaning those 90 days can literally be cut down to 90 seconds."

Changing skillsets

A key issue for SDN adoption is the drastic impact it will have on the people working in the data centre, such as storage and network management experts who may not be big on strategic architectural considerations.

"It is organisationally disruptive, it changes how to do things, who is responsible and in most cases, it changes the skillsets," said Cappuccio.

Internal changes should not be about reducing headcount necessarily, but rather upskilling existing network staff to help plan for the change and how they can be involved.

"The choice is either let those workers get aggravated with the changes and find a way around the problem, or get them involved early to find out the best way to do it, which Gartner recommends," added Cappuccio.

McGregor suggests training staff into more of a coding model, giving them the ability to take advantage of some of the current open standards within SDN and thus program specific to that enterprise's needs. "We don't see a lot of reduction in headcount, just a shift in skillsets that's going to transform business and frankly this IT lead will be a big shift," he says.

"The businesses that focus on upskilling of labour will be dominant in this transformation globally. We haven't quite seen a big shift of change in education yet, it's happening slowly but we definitely see that coming."

McGregor also encourages businesses bringing together thought leaders and engaging them in architectural workshops to look forward 5-10 years into the future of networking. Many companies are now testing SDN and storage, in small beta environments and production environments, though not across the board.

"They're training their staff, they're testing out different vendor offerings, getting comfortable with it," says Cappuccio. "It's an evolutionary thing, not a revolutionary thing."


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