It is worth asking what carriers ultimately expect to gain by implementing SDN orchestration. For starters, service providers that virtualize their infrastructure may improve agility, make the network more scalable and manageable and enable easier monetization of new services, with help from real-time information and analytics.
At the same time, SDN on its own is hardly a silver bullet. A lot also depends on the end-to-end service implementation and how teams handle the transition from legacy and physical assets to virtual and cloud infrastructure. Risk must be mitigated for new initiatives such as SDN to provide acceptable return on investment.
A cloud management platform like QualiSystems CloudShell can ease this journey by enabling DevOps automation, which naturally supports SDN and NFV through a shared emphasis on business agility and production and operational technology. Moreover, CloudShell sports a legacy- and cloud-friendly object-based architecture, as well as intuitive Web-based self-service portal and sustainable calendar-based scheduling and reservation.
SDN expectations and the SDN-DevOps relationship
Given the challenges inherent in moving from an already complex environment to one that includes API-driven network paradigms, the much-touted benefit of cost reduction may be difficult to attain, at least at first. CIMI Corporation founder and president Tom Nolle hinted at something similar last year when he pointed out that "the cheapest option is always the stuff you've already purchased," i.e. not new gear that would be implemented as part of a rip-and-replace.
Instead of cost-cutting, many teams now expect DevOps automation - even if they don't identify it by that name - as a natural complement to SDN and NFV. A recent Dynamics Market report, sponsored by Avaya, compared the incidence of several fundamental network issues with the expectations that SDN would resolve these troubles. The top response was downtime caused by human error, followed by complexity of service configuration - both issues that have also long been teed-up for DevOps' fundamental combination of collaboration between developers and IT.
The network remains a bottleneck in the provisioning of applications and services, making SDN and NFV in tandem DevOps automation a seemingly ideal solution. According to research from IDC, Sopheon and Enterprise Research Associates, inefficient manual processes for reconfiguring infrastructure to accommodate change is still a pain point at almost 40 percent of organizations. Slow provisioning and high costs for networking are also widespread issues.
"SDN can complement the cultural change that DevOps provides."
In response, carriers have looked at setting up virtual labs and turning physical labs into "clouds" in order to move toward infrastructure that is matched to agile DevOps processes. At the same time, they are focused on handling cultural evolution and ensuring that they DevOps that can support network topologies in addition to compute (the main/only concept supported by most cloud platforms).
"SDN today really is (or should be) a subset of DevOps, focusing on network infrastructure operations rather than app infrastructure operations," explained F5's Lori MacVittie in a post for DevOps.com. "But the same principles and goals are very much aligned between DevOps and SDN, between the network and the application infrastructure. That's a critical convergence starting to appear that's necessary, as when you dig into IT and its problems delivering apps on time these days, it's mostly the network that's still in the way."
DevOps creates a culture for effective SDN
Settling on a definition for DevOps can be tricky, since the movement is more about abstract concepts like collaboration than concrete technical solutions. Still, the typical DevOps pillars of working together and breaking down organizational silos have readily apparent benefits for any SDN implementation.
Under DevOps, network engineers and application infrastructure teams can be brought together to manage the increasingly important relationship between the network at large and the specific applications it supports. Time to market for new services and products can be greatly reduced, since infrastructure can be further automated and traditional bottlenecks - e.g., relying on fragile scripts or being beholden to the expertise of a few programmers on teams with many non-programmers - can be removed.
The takeaway: One of the major benefits of implementing SDN is the opportunity it creates for establishing a DevOps culture to handle the change. In a way, SDN and DevOps are complementary. The impetus for DevOps can arise from the need to evolve infrastructure for SDN, plus the ongoing use of DevOps practices can fuel the success of an SDN implementation. A cloud platform such as QualiSystems CloudShell is essential for setting up DevOps automation as carriers transition from legacy to SDN.