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Why software-defined networking will be indispensable to your business

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Software-defined networking is no longer just a buzzword

Written by: Jon Buckthorp, Head of Enterprise Field Marketing, Vodafone

Communications technology has led to the ability to connect everything, to really harness the power of computers, and to utilise new digital skills in a way that could never previously have been imagined.

It didn’t disappoint.

In no time, the cloud had transformed how we do business, and today it’s something we couldn’t do without.

We’ve some big news: another revolution is coming. And this time it’s in enterprise networking.

The traditional hardware-based network has been struggling to cope with the explosion of data and applications, fast-evolving security threats, and customer demand for 24/7/365 access to services.

In the past, the answer would have been to add new hardware. But this just makes an already-complex network even more complex.

The solution lies in a whole new kind of networking. A whole new way to imagine your business in the design of your people, process and performance plan.

The software-defined network (SDN) is an open and agile network that will enable businesses to reap the benefits of virtualisation, intelligence and automation.

In short, SDN is the network for the digital age. It may be a ‘thing’ for now – but like the cloud, it won’t be too long before we wonder how we ever got by without it.

We’re going to need a new rule book

With a traditional network, each element – like a core switch or router – has to be configured manually to do a certain task. Which takes time and means relying on IT specialists. And, of course, human error can always creep in – even specialists make mistakes.

SDN rips up the rule book by using software to virtualise the network, which makes it programmable. It allows you control far beyond the form and function of your equipment housed onsite today.

This programmable network can then be configured and managed centrally by adding a universal CPE across your business. This means you don’t need to configure each switch and router to tell data what to do and where to go.

Instead, you define the polices or ‘rules’ centrally, then software does all the hard work – automated, accurate configuration in an instant, with all the simplicity of the cloud.

An example of where SDN is enabling new solutions and having a transformative impact is the SD-WAN – an ‘overlay’ virtual solution that sits on top of your existing WAN or IP-VPN (or underlay network). This connectivity brings intelligence to your network, giving you immediate visibility and control of your traffic, while providing a lower-cost alternative to MPLS networking.

SDN will change your relationship with your network provider

SDN heralds a shift in the managed service model. Traditionally, you submit a change request, which is then actioned within the SLA.

With SDN, you can make changes to key elements of your network yourself.

For example, the built-in visibility of a software-based architecture means you can identify any bottlenecks across your network and prioritise bandwidth for your critical applications.

Or if you want to launch a new application, you can do it yourself with zero-touch provisioning, bringing a new level of efficiency – Gartner estimates SDN can reduce provisioning times for new applications by 80 per cent.

In a nutshell, SDN gives you the power to make crucial changes to your network, on demand – making your organisation more agile and better able to respond to changing business needs and customer demand.

That doesn’t mean your network provider no longer has a role to play, however. It’s just that their role will evolve.

In the short term, that role is to help you understand how ready your organisation is for SDN, from a strategic and technical perspective. Then identify how to help you move to SDN at a pace that suits you, in a way that meets your business needs.

In the long term, the network provider’s role is to continue providing managed services for the kind of things organisations would rather not tackle themselves – as well as to prioritise developing the virtual functionality that will make all the difference to how their customers do business.

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