Five reasons why your business needs software-defined networking

Published: Jun 22, 2018
Author: Mark Hollman

Many of our larger clients face a daunting dilemma. On the one hand, they have never been under more pressure to be nimble as they face rapid transformation and disruption in their key markets. On the other, the expansion of their IT ecosystems, with cloud deployments and a massive increase in applications and devices, complicates their ability to be agile, particularly given their legacy IT infrastructure.

It is this contradiction that is driving the rapid take-up of software-defined networking (SDN) – the automation and virtualization of network operations. In our latest research based on a survey of 165 senior IT leaders, we found that 15% of organizations have already deployed this emerging technology or have begun piloting it. But importantly, the pace of adoption is expected to accelerate rapidly: within two years, 57% of organizations expect to have done this.

These statistics are a clear reflection of what we’ve been seeing in the market, with firms telling us that greater business model agility will be key to their survival. 

Time and again, we are seeing five common drivers for change:

1. Innovation is stalling due to lack of network scalability

Our latest research found that almost one in two organizations (49%) cite the need to scale network functionality as a leading business trigger for SDN adoption, ahead of any other catalyst identified. This statistic is far from surprising – our clients need a network that is agile enough to support the business as every function attempts to respond more quickly to changing market conditions.

And this challenge is sector agnostic: in almost every industry imaginable, businesses are attempting to support an ever-increasing number of applications and devices as they add new features to their products and services. Very often, network capacity and complexity stands in the way of this imperative – at the least, delaying enterprises’ ability to innovate.

SDN provides a potential solution to this problem. It offers a means to manage network functionality from the centre, implementing changes to applications across multiple devices from a single point, rather than device-by-device. This hugely decreases the time required to flex, pivot and expand as the organization’s requirements evolve.

2. Market opportunities are being lost through lack of speed

Ultimately, any IT strategy must be based around the business outcomes it is targeting – it should support competitive advantage. In a marketplace where windows of opportunity are increasingly fleeting, this advantage will be lost if the business is not able to innovate at speed.

This is a key driver for SDN adoption. The fact that SDN is a centralised, policy-based way of managing IT assets means organizations can innovate faster. Each new application or iteration can be rolled out from the centre, with devices that automatically configure themselves through a link back to the controller and the new policies that have been set.

In a world where customer appetites must be satisfied on-demand, but change quickly and unpredictably, SDN can bridge the gap – underpinning the “fail fast” mentality that we are increasingly seeing. New products and services reach their target markets more quickly and can be updated or replaced at will.

3. The business expects to innovate at pace

Firms also tell us that having the agility and flexibility to improve services across the business is critical – so the speed with which an SDN deployment can be made is seen as another huge driver for adoption.

Enabling each business unit to move more quickly individually is crucial. In many of the businesses we work with, it’s not uncommon to hear that different departments are attempting to innovate independently of one another – and of the IT function – only to discover that their IT infrastructure does not allow them to move at the pace they expect. For business users able to access on-demand services outside of work, this is frustrating and limiting.

In this context, SDN further supports the organization’s capacity for innovation – the extent to which it is able to pilot and roll-out new initiatives, whether internally or customer-facing. SDN provides a practical solution to the network complexity that otherwise threatens experimentation and transformation.

4. Security concerns are inhibiting creativity

In a world where organizations have never been more conscious of cybersecurity and the rising threat level, the fear of a major breach or failure inhibits innovation. Businesses worry that moving too quickly or working with new partners will expose them to additional vulnerabilities – understandably, their response is to focus on resilience, but this is often to the detriment of agility.

SDN can enhance enterprise security in both technical and practical ways. For one thing, fully enclosed networks carrying encrypted traffic are inherently more secure than enterprises’ traditional network solutions. For another, SDN provides the organization with the opportunity to build existing application security into users’ virtual environments.

It means businesses are better able to manage their IT resilience while simultaneously pursuing the innovation they so desperately need.

5. Efficiency is vital for sustaining innovation in the longer term

If fail fast is a crucial principle for many organizations in this new world of transformation, so too is fail cheap. As they experiment with new applications and trial new products and services, businesses with costly and cumbersome IT infrastructure will quickly be overwhelmed.

The fact that SDN is managed at the center, stripping out the need for individual device reconfiguration for each new iteration of an application, is potentially of huge value here. But the even greater long-term opportunity may be to see SDN adoption as part of a move towards network transformation, as enterprise-wide virtualization will deliver a lean and efficient organization ready for the challenges of the next five years and beyond.

Download our latest research to learn more about the evolving SDN landscape.

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