Self Service: The most understated reason why SDNs will rock your world

Combining OpenFlow with software delivery models and virtualized networks puts the power of IT in the hands of people who really need it.

As I noted previously, two surveys give different pictures about SDNs. My take: every enterprise will adopt SDNs, but lower hardware prices will not be the biggest reason. Here’s why:

To hear proponents tell it, Software Defined Networks (SDNs) are going to commoditize switching and routing, moving all the expensive intelligence software created by the infrastructure vendors into open software running on a server. While I think there’s some truth to it, an upheaval in the switch and routing market due to lower physical switch and router price isn’t the major benefit for many enterprises.

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"I don’t think physical switches running OpenFlow will seriously threaten Cisco," David Hughes, Silver Peak’s CTO, recently mentioned to me. "But software-controllable virtual switches embedded in hypervisors will be another matter. They will have a profound impact on how IT delivers services to the business and will drive commoditization of the physical switching infrastructure."

Combining OpenFlow with software delivery models and virtualized networks puts the power of IT in the hands of people who really need it – the application owners responsible for the user experience and the virtualization administrator responsible for delivering high-performance workloads.

It’s similar to roadwork repairs. The pothole in my street may be of crucial importance to me, but the city is often burdened with bigger priorities. Today’s networking teams are stretched to the limit addressing the core needs of the business; they can’t always accommodate every change request in the necessary timeframe.

With SDNs, IT will be able to commoditize expert solutions so that application owners and virtualization administrators can solve problems themselves - problems that previously required the networking team. And just as IT was able to reduce help desk costs by enabling users to reset their own passwords, so IT will improve its efficiency by offloading specific IT tasks and services onto the people running today’s applications.

Case in point was the recently announced Agility initiative. About two weeks ago, Vivian Xu, Silver Peak’s manager of virtualization and cloud product management, showed me how powerful SDN services could be. We were looking at a vSphere screen showing the various workloads moving data over distance. She selected one, clicked on a menu item, and in minutes accelerated the workload’s performance.

It’s not just operations that are made simpler; it’s also deployment. If that appliance is virtual and can be downloaded from the ‘Net, then the virtual administrator could go from menu-click to deployment in under an hour. The same process with a physical appliance would take weeks or even months spent on meetings, waiting for delivering of the new hardware, configuring and testing it, then deploying it.

Far from threatening the networking group, this whole approach is exactly what the networking team requires. "Network teams are already stretched too thin to be responsible for every networking decision,"  writes Andre Kindness, senior analyst at Forrester Research. For that reason, IT should "invest in tools that empower other I&O teams to utilize the network," Kindness added.

As it turns out, self-service services are the real power of SDN.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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