Can CIOs Lead the Software Defined Network (SDN) transformation?

Just when CIOs were coming to terms with having their roles transformed and even challenged as potentially redundant, another technology leap forward is happening that provides both a risk and an opportunity.

This leap forward is the Software Defined Network (SDN) global sales of which research house IDC calculates to likely be worth US$ 3.7 billion by 2016, a more than ten-fold increase on the current worldwide sales of US$360 million. Separate research by Network Instruments has found that SDN was not even on the radar for organizations in 2009, but now, just four years later, has 22% of organizations planning to deploy it.

So what is SDN and why should CIOs be concerned?

SDN is the programmable network, based on open standards, which can deliver reduced complexities of scale, greater flexibility and faster resource deployment. It enables new operational efficiencies, driving up the network scale while reducing the cost of large or complex network deployments.

In SDN, the software which defines a routing process, security policies, traffic engineering and data plans is separated from the data plane and the actual packet forwarding. Network elements only do the physical package routing. All routing control is through software at a higher ‘intelligent layer’. This is decoupled from the physical network-forwarding layer, so the decision-making process is distributed across more systems. This means organisations can drive network resources at greater speed and with greater flexibility. No wonder current network architectures are under close scrutiny.

SDN is being driven by the snowballing penetration of mobile devices, social networks and cloud computing. It is very suited to a world progressively adopting intelligent sensors and connecting everything possible to the internet. These unstoppable trends are opening new opportunities for individuals, business and government to operate much more efficiently, with the network being at the core of these transformations.

More perceptive organizations are realising that SDN is the way forward. This network model brings competitive advantage, a centralised and more subtle control of expansive networks, better application performance, plus improved availability, reliability and security.

One SDN challenge for organizations is ensuring they have enough internal staff to bridge the inevitable gap between ‘old world technology’ and the new world of programmable networks. Inevitably CIOs will be singled out as the most likely executives to handle any SDN transformation, but are they properly skilled, are they capable of finding the best people, are they prepared to manage both strategy and operations, are CIOs relevant for the task? Not new questions, but ones being asked in a new context.

CIOs are very aware of these SDN issues. A 100-strong international team of Logicalis service and technology specialists, has done a study involving interviews with business and IT leaders across Europe, Asia, North and South America, which identified a clear consensus about SDN.

The study found that CIOs agree that SDN certainly has the potential to transform infrastructures like networks and data centres into agile, flexible service platforms and will likely mean a revolution in the way organisations provision, consume and manage technology.

However, the study also found that realising SDN’s full impact depends on the availability of skilled business analysts able to bridge the gap between business strategy, operational priorities, and IT policy definition and management, skills which are currently in short supply. CIOs take note.

Logicalis SMC CEO, Eugene Wolf, believes that SDN can transform the role of IT departments and CIOs.

“It can enable them to operate like internal service providers, combining the ability to manage core infrastructure intelligently and efficiently with the capacity to support line of business leaders, by rapidly provisioning the services their strategic priorities demand, all while improving overall cost efficiency,” he said.

Wolf believes specifically skilled analysts will be required to be the human interface between any business and its ‘intelligent, programmable infrastructure’.

They will analyse business priorities and translate them into IT business rules and policies, and then play a central role in managing what is likely to become a complex and interdependent policy framework over time,” Wolf said.

“It is easy to see why, then, a lack of these skills could hold SDN back – realising the full value of SDN depends on access to a specialist, and rare, set of skills. And these are skills that few of the organisations we spoke to felt they had access to internally.”

Every threat can be an opportunity and CIOs, rather than being overwhelmed by enterprise expectations, can now step up to the plate and demonstrate to their organizations, that they have the required skills to manage the SDN shift. Someone will claim the role and it could be argued that CIOs must be the ones; the internal strategic component of their organization, if they are to remain relevant.

To find out more about SDN, click here.

Tags CIO, CIO Leadership, SDN, service led transformation, Software Defined Network, IT transformation, SDE, SDN skills gap


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