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How to break down the barriers to SDN adoption


Published: Jul 17, 2018
Author: Mark Hollman


The number of organizations implementing software-defined networking (SDN) technologies is set to increase dramatically, according to our latest research. We believe there are good reasons for that, particularly in a world where digital transformation requires organizations to be ever-more agile and fleet-of-foot. SDN technologies can help you virtualize and automate your network operations, potentially providing significant benefits – to improve the speed and agility of your IT infrastructure, enhance your cybersecurity and raise your efficiency, for example.

However, while our research reveals that SDN adoption is expected to accelerate rapidly over the next two years, it’s also clear that many organizations see obstacles in the path ahead.

That’s understandable given the newness of SDN technology. In our experience, while many organizations are excited about what SDN could help them achieve, they’re also nervous. Securing first-mover advantage could give you a competitive edge, but it also means you have to confront a certain amount of fear of the unknown.


Understand your barriers


In our view, the first step to doing that is to define what the barriers to SDN adoption might be for your organization. Our latest research suggests these barriers can broadly be categorized into two groups:

  • Is there a business case to adopt SDN?
  • Will disruption impact the business during SDN adoption?

Many organizations are concerned about whether the business case for SDN adoption stacks up – two-thirds (66%) say they are concerned about the ongoing operational costs of SDN, while more than half (55%) worry about the upfront cost of implementation versus the longer-term return on investment.

Organizations are also concerned about the process of moving to the new technology once a decision to adopt SDN technology is made. Two-thirds (67%) say they are worried about the potential for disruption and downtime during the migration process, while 66% cite concern about the complexities of migrating existing networks.


Focus on the prize


How, then, do you get around these concerns? The best starting point is to initially put the technology aside and consider your business drivers for change instead. Make sure you can answer the important questions.

  • What are your objectives, digitally, and what are the key things you need to achieve in order to maintain a competitive advantage at a business level?
  • What is the context of the environment in which you operate and which external factors influence that environment?

What you’re really doing here is starting to build a business case for SDN that is predicated on the specific problems it could solve for you, rather than focusing on the technology.

When we work with customers in this way, we build up a picture of the organization’s commercial imperatives, where the costs of transformation will fall, and what the gains from SDN will be. Ultimately, we’re aiming to build a customer-specific view of the return on investment they can look forward to from SDN – in other words, to reduce the fear of the unknown.

Those returns will come in different forms – directly from top-line benefits enabled by agility and speed, as well as from cost efficiency, but also from less obvious sources, such as workforce productivity. The key is to think about what SDN will achieve specifically for your organization. What are the business outcomes that adoption can help you achieve and how can they be quantified?

Similarly, on the practicalities of implementation, organizations will find that planning and testing will help them overcome problems such as disruption. Most obviously, many organizations are adopting SDN technologies on a trial basis in particular business units or markets; this provides an opportunity to learn where the complexities of migration are most likely to cause difficulties, and how these can be overcome.

Moving to SDN in this way will also enable your organization to build up its knowledge and experience of managing virtualized networks, as well as implementing them. This is important, since many IT functions do not yet possess the skills and experience required to manage SDN deployments successfully – hardly surprising given that this is a fairly new technology.


Seek external support


The practical solution for many organizations will be to partner with a third-party provider that has global network and security expertise to help drive transformation. You need a partner with a proven track record of supporting SDN implementations and with a clear methodology for transition that is focused on the business case that you’re pursuing.

Above all, remember that SDN adoption can be complicated and you need a partner that is able and willing to work closely with your IT managers – not only to carefully assess the current state of your architecture and the best way forward given your needs, but also to help your IT teams learn how to get the best out of SDN. This requires day-to-day collaboration with the in-house team – in some cases, we’ve embedded our staff in customers’ businesses for a period of time, for example, or run SDN projects on a co-managed basis.

Ultimately, fortune favours the brave. Our customers are increasingly recognizing the benefits that SDN has to offer – the potential to build a more secure IT infrastructure that is scalable, agile and faster-moving as the race to innovate continues to pick up pace. The barriers to adoption are certainly not insurmountable – especially with the support of a trusted partner.

Learn more about the evolving SDN landscape.