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Dealing with SDN Culture Shock

SDN success starts with addressing primary challenges, including the unavoidable culture shift

There’s been a lot of attention focused lately on the benefits of moving to a software defined networking (SDN) environment. Of course, as with any evolution, making the shift rarely happens overnight, and there are a few real challenges. Probably the biggest challenge is cultural. Simply put, SDN is a completely different way of doing things including sometimes monumental changes in the roles and responsibilities for key staff.

As SDN continues to gain prominence, fewer people will be actively involved with traditional configurations – meaning there are less people sitting at a keyboard doing manual command line interface configurations of switches or routers every time you want to provision, change or resize some part of the IT infrastructure. However, the ability to effectively orchestrate applications and network behavior to align with business priorities will become the art IT folks will need to master.

SDN also forces organizations to eliminate IT silos. Instead of having networking, server, security, storage and application experts, many of these roles merge. Or at the very least the lines begin to blur. SDN basically abstracts the network and the rest of the infrastructure to create a programming layer where orchestration requests to the infrastructure just happen. Thus an application owner can define the policies and requirements for their application and then push that to be provisioned on the infrastructure. There the controller will initiate automated process and implement the changes with no human interaction.

While this shift seems threatening to the IT personnel, it doesn’t mean that SDN will eliminate the networking or security expert. They will work to encode their domain knowledge as well as business goals into the logic and policies that the SDN controllers will use. SDN provides the tools for experts to apply and leverage their skillset. Switching and routing are fundamentally the same, yet no longer require multiple log-ins to accomplish a desired goal. With SDN it’s a matter of utilizing one network language.

Properly structured, SDN allows networking professionals to embrace new roles that shift the majority of their focus away from the mundane, low value, repetitive, and – perhaps most important – error prone tasks that currently occupy a majority of their time. With SDN it’s possible to shift attention to high value tasks including how to strategically grow the network. Bottom line: SDN is ushering in a transition to effectively configure the IT infrastructure holistically, driven by the desired business outcome rather than silo limitations. Those who are able to navigate the cultural changes and find ways to align the IT organization with business goals will be in the best position to succeed.

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