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Challenges for enterprises that slow down SDN deployment

Posted by Hans Ashlock August 3, 2015
Challenges for enterprises that slow down SDN deployment

Many enterprise organizations are hungry for software-defined networking, and 2015 is proving to be the year that SDN becomes broadly deployed in this sector. Late last year, industry expert Steve Alexander predicted that 2015 would be "the year SDN and NFV go mainstream," and for IT organizations, that is largely proving to be the case. As Alexander pointed out, 2014 laid the groundwork for widespread SDN deployments with key advancements of software-based networking technologies. However, Alexander asserted that 2014 emerged largely as "the year of chatter" in terms of SDN, since it was a 12-month period in which many companies mulled various strategies for SDN deployments without acting decisively.  

"With enterprise networking evolving, the push to SDN has never been more important."

This year, however, that reticence on the part of enterprises seems to be fading, as more businesses are emboldened by the transformative potential of SDN. But it is not only the positive impact of SDN deployments that is fueling more implementations - it is also the reality that enterprise networking is changing. According to Enterprise Networking Planet's Arthur Cole, the evolution of mobile and video solutions within the business network is creating the need for more agile, scalable and forward-focused networking solutions. SDN has the potential to check these boxes. But, in order to get the most out of SDN, companies need to ensure that their deployments are carried out as seamlessly as possible. And for enterprise IT departments, this can lead to organizational, cultural and functional challenges.

Company culture can present a challenge in terms of business networking evolution.Company culture can present a challenge in terms of business networking evolution.

Identifying the challenges that can accompany IT SDN deployments

"For IT departments, any move toward new technology will inevitably come with challenges, and SDN is no exception to this rule."

For enterprises, any move toward new technology will inevitably come with challenges, and SDN is no exception to this rule. When it comes to rolling out SDN, organizations often find themselves confronting difficulties in two different categories: Cultural/organizational and technological:

  • Cultural/organizational issues: As TechTarget contributor Antone Gonsalves has pointed out, the enterprise shift toward SDN actually runs into bigger speed bumps with company culture than technological challenges. That is because the move to SDN should be accompanied by necessary modifications to existing enterprise culture and organization. Once a previously traditional business is leveraging SDN, for example, the separation that existed between network operators and software developers in the legacy system needs to be eliminated. What this means is that developers and network admins need to get acclimated to the new system with new training, which includes network services-based app programming for the former group and coding/software configuration capabilities for the latter. 

    Another cultural issue that prevents enterprise IT SDN deployments from occurring quickly is an engrained resistance to change, as Network World pointed out. "Change," according to IT expert Vesko Pehlivanov, "is the enemy." With this mentality pervading numerous business IT departments, the willingness of companies to approach a technology in its relative early stages like SDN is limited. Company leaders understandably want to pursue tech solutions with proven results. When they look at SDN, they see an IT environmental change whose positive results haven't been illustrated in the kind of large-scale enterprise IT department adoption that catalyzes many smaller companies to follow suit. The business cultural resistance to SDN, as IT services expert Bryan Larish told Network World, "is actually a really big problem."

    "The technology, quite frankly, is the easy part," Larish said. "It's how do we change the culture, how do we affect this massive machinery to make a move in a new direction." 

    But hesitance on the part of enterprise culture is not without its reasons.  

  • Technology challenges: The move to SDN is not, as Gartner has previously explained, a small move: "SDN is not something you do in a 3-day weekend. It is not something you slather across the environment. SDN is an architectural approach." That SDN represents a major architectural shift and not just a quick upgrade means it presents technology issues that many businesses find immensely challenging to deal with.

    One of the inevitable problems that enterprises looking to leverage SDN adopters will confront is the issue of integrating SDN with existing networking environments. For businesses that lack the resources to roll out a smooth integration, the introduction of SDN can be seen as disruptive, and as something that will quickly rack up money and eat up time due to the challenges of integrating it within an existing infrastructure. 

    As Robert Bauer, an IT director at a device protection services company, told Network World, SDN is "not simple when it completely changes how a company traditionally operates."

The benefit of CloudShell
​SDN is a shift with significant momentum behind it. With the potential to drive down operational costs while also allowing enterprise users to better leverage key business assets like cloud computing and virtualization, the benefits of SDN are clear. Yet enterprises show hesitance to deploy SDN due to business cultural and tech challenges that can slow deployments and may seem insurmountable to companies. 

But the difficulties enterprises faced in the push toward SDN can be tackled via the harnessing of business tools aimed at easing the transition and better equipping workers to adapt to new ways of doing business. As a tool, CloudShell from QualiSystems is designed to offer companies a pathway to new, more unified and agile ways of doing IT. CloudShell allows IT and network teams to build on-premises IaaS based on the notion of self-service environments that can contain any mix of infrastructure. CloudShell environments can contain legacy components such as mainframe session and Sparc servers, dedicated and bare metal x86 servers, virtual machines, as well as traditional, physical, virtual and software-defined networking. These end-to-end, production-like infrastructure environments empower application developers, network testers, security and compliance teams and deployers to ensure that SDN isn't implemented into legacy IT methodologies but is part of an evolution to more agile IT practices.

The takeaway: As SDN continues to gain popularity and more widespread deployments, it is important for IT departments looking to adopt the technology to be prepared for the different elements of readiness that deployment requires. One key to SDN transition is establishing new practices that enable an end-to-end approach to IT rather than the siloed, legacy approaches of the past. An IaaS built on CloudShell can provide a platform for launching new, more agile approaches to networking and IT in general.

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