A CIO’s Pathfinder to Software Defined Networking (SDN)

Since CIOs are at the intersection of rapidly evolving business and technology environments, any news of new technology can quickly go viral. A recent technology trend to evaluate is software defined networking (SDN). With a lot of hype surrounding SDN (IDC predicts it will be a $2 billion market by 2016), CIOs are wondering if making big bets on SDN will make an impact on operations and the bottom line.

It’s important to take a hard look at what’s being said and where –- to determine whether or not the news is really buzz worthy. Being a CIO of a networking company, many of my peers naturally ask for my advice on the latest trends related to their company’s infrastructure, and I do my best to offer an honest, candid opinion. Ultimately, though, each CIO needs to do their own thorough analysis on whether to integrate new hardware or software into their network. Throughout my career, I’ve seen plenty of technology trends come and go, each promising a new solution to any one of these ongoing struggles. Here are three key questions I ask as I consider new trends.

What’s the Buzz All About?

In my opinion, there is a lot of hype around SDN now, which can make it easy to be skeptical. When doing research, it’s important to look at the source of the information. With buzz mostly coming from technology companies, the investor community and people running very large networks or small software start-ups, you have to ask yourself: is it a reputable third party, or a vendor? If it’s a vendor, do they have an authentic and complete SDN story? Is there a clear and easy roadmap to follow?

Is it Worth Experimenting On?

It is critical to evaluate whether any new technology will provide a decent ROI while solving a specific business problem. While you’ll always have the bottom line in mind, it’s also important to experiment. Too often CIOs and IT departments are too pragmatic and too ROI centric, that they miss or don’t see innovation opportunities. The beginning stages of a technology trend often provide the best opportunity to work with vendors and get your enterprise requirements met for the long-term.

Cloud computing went through its own hype cycle. Back in 2010, Juniper decided to migrate as much as we could to the cloud on a three-year time horizon. Then, last year, we evolved our thinking from moving everything to the cloud to making ourselves ask “Why Not Cloud?”, and processing each analysis through that filter to determine what we do and don’t migrate. We’ve embraced cloud for Saas, PaaS and IaaS deployments, adjusting our thinking and strategy accordingly to leverage cloud-based resources along with applications that may never move to the cloud.

A report from the Tech Journal on cloud computing showed that moving to the cloud has decreased performance challenges (63%), simplified management process (70%), reduced cost of infrastructure (63%) and alleviated internal resource pressure (74%). Similar to server virtualization and storage virtualization, originally hyped as way to save money on hardware and reduce energy costs, CIOs are likely to see benefits to SDN such as a more agile and flexible network as we move away from the hype toward implementation.

Who Will be the Winners and Losers?

While experimenting is key, it’s important to do so with your eyes wide open. The first companies to integrate new technologies do not always emerge as market leaders and innovators. CIOs must find the right balance to understand when adopting a new technology is best for your business.

When I look at adopting a new technology, I look for a vendor that is committed to open standards. But open standards evolve and change and de facto standards sometimes emerge, so vendors must evolve with the standards to avoid getting left behind. It’s important for CIOs to hold vendors accountable to align with and commit to emerging standards, innovating where required and leveraging established industry standards where they can. Also, what does a vendor’s R&D investment look like? SDN is in the early stages and you’ll need a partner who is investing in the future.

In this context, past performance “is” a strong indicator of future delivery. CIOs should be sure their chosen vendor can sustain R &D and innovation. The company must be able to stand behind the product, provide support, and spend the time to educate the CIO especially in critical infrastructure areas and when it comes to new emerging technologies.

Some trends will come and go, while others, like SDN, are sea changes for the industry. To be able to tell the difference, CIOs must focus on adding value to their companies versus chasing the next gadget craze or silver bullet technology promising to fix all their problems. CIOs must elevate their own position within their companies by providing new technology that allows for a sustainable advantage and differentiate from the competition.

First published in Wired Innovation Insights.

 

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