There’s an old saying in networking that goes something like “You’re only as good as your tools and to the degree that they are updated.” This usually comes up when we’re talking about network management. Like the rest of the IT world, innovation in networking technology is constant, which means that the processes and tools we use to run the network are constantly being improved upon and updated.

This has never been truer than in the past few years with the development of software-defined networking. SDN offers a sea change in how networking is done. And I’ve seen that when customers spend some time with it, they very often begin to see that how they’ve been managing their networks is out of date.

Asking the Right Networking Questions

Our conversations about SDN usually start when the hardware in their data centers is reaching end of life. Customers will come into the conversation with the intention of simply replacing their current data center setup with new hardware, keeping the same architecture and approach. I then start asking them questions:

  • Are you having difficulty troubleshooting your current network?
  • Is managing security on the network as simple as you’d like it to be?
  • Is your network documentation up to date and meeting your needs?
  • Would you benefit from a more holistic view into your network?

These questions touch on some of the most commons trouble spots that organizations run into as their networks evolve and grow. Increasing network growth and complexity makes pinpointing and fixing problems very difficult – leading to downtime that today’s digital-first organizations cannot afford. And very often maintaining a secure infrastructure amid all this growth and complexity becomes burdensome, at a time when security has never been more top of mind for organizations.

An SDN approach to the network addresses these pain points, providing greater manageability, a holistic view of the network from a single pane of glass, and a way to execute granular security policies across the network.

A Customer’s SDN Experience

I recently worked with a customer on an SDN solution – in particular, the implementation of a Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) network. Proliance Surgeons, a specialty surgical group based in Seattle, fit the profile of an organization that would greatly benefit from an SDN implementation. It had a nine-year-old infrastructure reaching end of life. Initially, there was discussion about swapping in a new version of the three-tier architecture that was already there. But the more we talked about their needs, a growing organization with a small IT practice, it became clear to me that SDN might be a good fit.

What was appealing to the IT team there was the manageability, the openness of a two-tier architecture — the ease with which policies could be defined and executed, all from a single pane of glass. They really liked that. The other part of SDN that Proliance embraced was the ability to gain a holistic view into the network. They wanted to be able to gain that application perspective of the network that is inherent to the SDN network approach.

SDN’s Strong ROI

This is attractive because we are operating in an application-first world now. SDN organizes the network in a way that reflects how operations work today, not 30 years ago. SDN allows organizations to arrange their networks in a way that better aligns with how they do business today.

It’s an eye-opening moment for customers when they realize the value that SDN can drive. We can and do talk about the budget implications of an SND implementation. Not surprisingly, the upfront costs of a deployment are a little bit more than that Nexus 5000 the organization installed eight years ago. But typically, SDN pays for itself on the back end through savings in operation expenses and management. In the long run, you’ll be spending far more on a legacy network than you will for an SDN deployment.

Read the case study on Proliance Surgeons’ SDN implementation.