What is SDN and why should your customers care about it?

Discover why you should be approaching your customers about software-defined networking and why they should care about it.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is a hot topic. Market researcher International Data Corporation forecasts a 53.9% compound global annual growth rate for SDN between now and 2020, reaching nearly $12.5 billion in 2020.

SDN does for your customers’ networks what virtualisation does for their servers. It abstracts the services the network provides (such as data transmission and security) from the hardware so those functions and the underlying hardware can be controlled through software. By making it easier to quickly shift work among physical network devices, SDN can cut the number of switches your customers must buy by up to 80% and the number of server racks by up to 65%.

SDN also cuts operational expenses by 80%, the firm says, because managers can quickly configure, manage, secure, and optimise network components through automated programs. Such cost savings are always a great conversation starter. But SDN also meets two strategic challenges that can drive wider customer engagements.

1) How to more quickly deploy and scale new applications.

These applications include those involving cloud, social, mobile and big data. Manually changing configurations on firewalls, gateways and switches can delay the roll out of such applications, putting the business at risk as well as increasing long-term management costs. SDN allows your customers to deploy new networks in minutes rather than the days or weeks it might have taken previously. That agility can translate into tangible business benefit.

2) How to guard today’s complex, multi-tier application infrastructures against a rising tide of security threats.

In the past, your customers could get by with a “crunchy exterior, chewy interior” model, with only a few, well-defined entry points for customers or business partners through the corporate firewall. Today’s mobile, Web, social and Big Data applications require much more flexible access to their internal resources. That means a hacker who makes it past the firewall can often ransack almost any internal system.

SDN solves this problem with microsegmentation, which is so popular you could call it the “killer app” for SDN. Micro segmentation allows your customers to create tiny network segments (as small as one virtual machine (VM) and apply specific security and user access rules to each of them. Need to give internal data analysts access to customer data, while preventing other departments from accessing it? With microsegmentation, you can do that – and make sure those rules follow that data, even if it is moved among physical servers, or from an internal data centre to the cloud. It can also be used to quickly, and even automatically, remove an infected VM from the network so a virus contagion doesn’t spread.

Not sure how to get started?

Many networking vendors offer low cost, or even free, training and certification programs. You’ll want to get your virtualisation experts up to speed on networking, and vice versa, as SDN applies virtualisation to the network. And to get the SDN discussion going with customers, don’t start with the techno speak. Instead, ask them about their challenges quickly but securely rolling out new apps. Ask them, for example, if they need to:

  • Program applications directly to network resources
  • Segment their network to meet the performance or security needs of specific departments
  • Reduce operational costs
  • Speed up the provisioning of network services
  • Stay ahead of the rise of cloud services
  • Move away from a legacy network infrastructure
  • Keep their network secure while the business grows
  • Automate application delivery and mobility at scale
  • Achieve speed and agility when deploying new applications

The problems they bring up are your cue to start talking SDN.

Key takeaways

  • Demand for software-defined networking (SDN) is substantial, and rising.
  • SDN is the network equivalent of server virtualisation, allowing software-based configuration, deployment, management and security of networks.
  • Many SDN benefits are similar to those of server virtualisation: faster, easier application deployment, better security, and lower hardware and management costs.
  • To sell SDN, your current virtualisation specialists will need to learn more about networking, and vice versa.
  • Many vendors offer free or low-cost training and certification programs to get you started.
  • Look for opportunities to sell add-on solutions such as deep packet inspection and virtual patching, as well as services such as network management consulting and outsourced network management.

The Trusted Advisor Blueprint: A definitive guide to software defined networking