Does SDN Play Well With Others?

The last thing I’d ever want to do is complicate the lives of CIOs even further, but frankly, as a writer, that’s my job. Journalist H.L. Mencken used to talk about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

This will not be a comfort to those afflicted with trying to figure out next-generation networking and virtualization technology. As much as we talk about the value of SDN, at the same time, there’s a megatrend within technology that makes CIOs lives difficult – and that’s the idea of creating a holistic infrastructure that can accommodate new technology.

CIOs are searching for this accommodation through flexibility – that’s the big value that virtualization brings, whether it’s in servers, on the network, in storage, or in the data center. But here’s the catch: while you’re talking to all these individual vendors about software-defined fill-in-the-blank, you really, really have to keep in mind how it’s going to work in context – that is, within your entire infrastructure.

That’s because of a simple goal that IT has had for many years: getting rid of data silos. Silos increase costs. But perhaps more worrisome, they increase duplicate information, which increases the potential for errors which decreases trust in data. The smoother data flows on the network, the easier it’s shared, the less likely that someone in business is going to demand a fiefdom to control it. That’s one area where SDN can help.

So when you talk to your software-defined vendors, ask them how well they play with others. You want to know where to start? With SDN itself. According to this article by Carol Wilson in Light Reading last month, the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) and the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) have been conducting joint testing of “pre-standard” networking gear. The results were positive, according to one Alcatel-Lucent executive. Dave Brown, director of optical products marketing and an OIF board member, said the tests show that SDN “is getting real and is getting ready to be commercialized. We are still in the early stages, but these are exciting and positive results and very encouraging.”

But such interoperability is crucial, even beyond virtualized elements. As consultant VMware expert Steve Beaver noted last month on his Virtualization Practice blog, “No software-defined data center or networking virtualization platform is worth anything without the ability to integrate and connect to the physical world.” He cited the Nuage Networks 7850 Virtualized Services Gateway (VSG) as a way “to ensure that policies devised for applications automatically extend across virtualized and nonvirtualized assets for a fully automated network infrastructure.”

But equally important, think about the future. Think about where SDN will be deployed. Think about how extensive you’re going to go with this software-defined revolution. Likely, it’ll be beyond SDN into a software-defined data center (SDDC). As Roger Smith noted in Tech Radar Pro late last month, “The goal of a SDDC is to eliminate large infrastructure boxes and replace them with network services dedicated to and tuned to the needs of individual applications. This will allow applications to be decomposed into compute workloads, transport workloads, and storage workloads – and these various tasks can be executed wherever it makes the most sense.”

How will your SDN solution work with your software-defined storage infrastructure? With your cloud deployments, which also rely heavily on virtualization? And how will it be tied back to your virtualized servers?

The implication in all this is how well SDN plays well with other technologies, but there’s another aspect that IT has to consider: How well does SDN play with other people in your organization? That’s turning out to be a key consideration as swell. When your SDN integrates with your SDS, what does that mean for your network administrators and storage administrators? They’re going to have to start playing together as well, understanding the others issues and strengths. That’s why some consulting firms have started suggesting the creation of a “virtualization administrator” role, someone who can bring virtualization insight to the organization.

That’s why a recent Gartner report, cited by Howard Solomon in IT World Canada last month, said, “the biggest challenge SDN has to overcome has been organizational/cultural, not technology. SDN means that network control shifts to operations, which [analyst] Lerner says has been particularly difficult for network teams to accept.”

So by all means think about interoperability within SDN, and how it will integrate with your current and future operations. But also think about the people who are handling those operations. They’re just as crucial.

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