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SDN: the time is now (Reality Check)

With the rapid adoption of new technologies from cloud computing and analytics to the explosion of third-party applications, network managers are constantly playing catch up to meet demands. They need the flexibility and agility to meet the challenge of giving employees the proper tools to efficiently execute their jobs, while also minimizing associated risk while running the network.

As companies increase their reliance on their network infrastructure to drive business forward, IT leaders are looking for ways to be efficient and meet organizational demands without requiring exorbitant budgets. To do this, many in IT are looking at software-defined networks (SDN) to usher in the next generation of infrastructure. SDN offers virtualized network functionality for operations that have traditionally only been accessible through physical appliances and complex network architectures.

While SDN is not necessarily new, the industry is starting to sink its teeth into proof-of-concept projects leveraging the technology and there is massive buzz around its possibilities. However, organizations should not feel left behind if SDN is not yet part of the plan. In fact, only 9% of organizations surveyed by Nemertes Research are currently using SDN, while more than 42% are evaluating the technology. The fact is, many still do not fully understand the use cases around SDN and how it can directly impact their business, but there are a few key points that should push IT leaders to widely adopt SDN.

1. The SDN budget selling point: There’s a common misconception that the key selling point to use when trying to secure buy-in internally on SDN is the potential cost savings. Yes, it can cut your network infrastructure costs, but that shouldn’t mean less resources for your network. Instead, SDN allows people to reallocate the money saved with SDN to other parts of the infrastructure which then brings more reliability across the board. Therefore, if your organization adopts and deploys SDN, it’s not necessarily saving money, but giving the opportunity for budgets to go farther.

2. Introducing versatile bandwidth: Bandwidth can be a constant struggle for IT leaders. An incredible amount of work goes into building a network with the proper bandwidth to be able to withstand an organization’s workflow. SDN enables the ability to add flexibility to the amounts of bandwidth used across the network – which can be a holy grail for network managers. For example, an organization may not need a lot of bandwidth all the time, but when there are spikes in demand – perhaps during a holiday sale or a financial close – SDN gives network managers the flexibility to add more bandwidth as needed and then decrease it once the spike in demand subsides.

3. The IT vs. business tug of war: Related to bandwidth demands, there is a common tug of war between IT and other leaders across the business. While IT provisions a network to be the best for day-to-day needs, many across the business do not realize how launching a new program across an organization may affect network performance. For example, if HR launches a new training application for employees that features videos, tutorials, and downloads, without notifying IT of the launch, then the new application will likely dramatically slow the network creating a poor experience for employees. With the bandwidth flexibilities that SDN provides, IT can quickly respond and shift network needs to support the app properly even if they were not told about the launch beforehand. While communication should still be provided ahead of a launch, SDN can provide a safety blanket should proper communication not take place between the two teams.

4. Controlling application usage: For years, IT has struggled with the ability to properly control the applications that employees have access to. This problem has only increased as more and more applications have entered the workforce through the web. For example, IT may want to block the use of YouTube from employees due to company policy, however, employees in marketing need to be able to access that application since it’s a critical component of their job. Traditionally, it was difficult for IT to have an application level view and the precise control needed to effectively solve this problem. However, SDN infrastructure designs can add visibility at the branch level, allowing IT to have application-level control for individual units.

Investing in new technology can be a scary consideration, but the benefits that SDN can provide should ease any hesitation IT leaders face. Not only does it have the potential to make the lives of IT professionals easier, but adoption can impact business. In fact, according to Nemertes Research’s 2016/2017 Cloud and Data Center Benchmark and Maturity Model, organizations more likely to deploy SDN are the ones who are more successful than their peers.[2] By understanding some of the true use cases that can be brought to life across a business, IT leaders can make SDN a game changer for their organizations.


Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse is the publisher of Network Builder Reports ( At RCR, Martha authored more than 20 in-depth feature reports and more than 2,400 news articles. She also created the Mobile Minute and the 5 Things to Know Today series. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York and managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Martha is the board president of Austin's Trinity Center and is a member of the Women's Wireless Leadership Forum.

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