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Four Steps to SDN.

Oct 21, 2014
Sue Kim - gu
Sue Kim - gu About the author

How can an enterprise get into SDN? Here is the road map to adoption.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) has become one of the hottest topics in the industry, and for good reason, given the transformative changes that it can bring to many segments across IT, datacenter, and carrier markets. SDN offers a myriad of benefits for building, operating, and monetizing networks and services in new ways, including increased agility, flexibility, efficiency, and security, as well as decreased OpEx and CapEx. And SDN presents perhaps the first real opportunity to have the network increase a company’s revenue by directly coupling to and enabling business priorities, not just reducing its expenses (or minimizing their increase).

Is SDN on the horizon for your enterprise?

If you’re wondering how to get to SDN from here, considering these four initial steps can help get your enterprise on track to adoption:

Step One: Determine how SDN can help your enterprise and your customers.
SDN offers the aforementioned benefits to enterprise networks, but the benefits should also extend to customers for real, lasting impacts on business. The additional flexibility, freedom, and cost savings offered by SDN provide more room and free up the budget to expand services and ramp up creativity in how enterprises approach their customers’ needs. Investigating how SDN will help your business’ bottom line (e.g. cost of building and operating network and services infrastructure) is vital, but it is also important to keep in mind how transitioning to SDN will help with your top line and allow you to better meet the demands of your customers.

Step Two: Educate yourself and your employees.
Knowledge is power. For a successful migration, it is important that enterprises ensure that their teams acquire the skill sets required for building and operating software-defined networks, which can be quite different than those required for traditional networks. Training and skills certification programs can help. At ONF, we recently announced the development of the ONF-Certified SDN Professional (OCSP) Program, a vendor-neutral certification program that will provide SDN practitioners with an industry-recognized standard by which individual knowledge and skills can be evaluated. The more you can do to get your employees educated on SDN architecture, design principles, and interfaces, the better poised your enterprise will be for a successful SDN migration.

Also, the new dynamics of SDN will impact skills, processes, and customer relationships in enterprise IT in a significant way, and so staff might not embrace SDN immediately. Anticipating and planning for these dynamics will be necessary for enterprises to gain maximal benefit from SDN.

Step Three: Consider the impact on your network.
While implementing SDN can bring clear benefits to your network, the process of migration could also introduce new challenges and some risks. Outages, impairment of diagnostic and monitoring tools, or simply the scale and performance of the new SDN technology are example conditions that may be encountered during the intermediate steps of SDN migration. The ONF Migration Working Group has collaborated and produced documents to define guidelines, systems, and tools to facilitate and validate the steps required to migrate to the target software-defined network, and to mitigate such risks.

In particular, ONF’s “Migration Use Cases and Methods” document provides a framework for migration methods exemplified by a set of target networks. The framework includes the description of target network core requirements, starting network migration requirements, phased migration requirements, and finally validation requirements to ensure a complete and successful network migration.

In addition to documenting the core requirements of the target software-defined network for your enterprise, the starting network must also be very well understood and documented. The type of network, the nature of the existing equipment (e.g. hardware and/or software switches/equipment), and the type of control machine (e.g. routing protocol, switching protocols) currently deployed must all be specified. In some instances, the starting network might need to be brought to a “stable” state to become ready for migration.

Step Four: Start small.
The process of migrating to SDN can greatly benefit from copious planning, well-documented migration steps, and pre-defined roll-back mechanisms. An organization’s approach to migration should be planned out thoroughly before moving forward with the transition. This is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. The architecture and service requirements for the target software-defined network deployment should be decided on, and should include detailed information about the interfaces and devices that will be impacted throughout the process. Also, migration doesn’t have to be a large investment made at one time. Companies can and should begin to adopt SDN based on a stepwise approach, e.g. by virtualizing one service or network domain at a time, to ensure a smooth migration to full adoption. As you begin the gradual implementation of SDN, it is also extremely important to define and execute procedures for post-migration acceptance to test and validate the target network, using the right software tools and metrics for each step of the transition.

The move to SDN will be more than beneficial to your enterprise and customers. Your networks will thank you and your customers will enjoy the great flexibility and service agility of SDN. Are you ready to get started?

- Justin Dustzadeh, CTO and vice president of technology at Huawei, chair of the ONF Migration Working Group, and ONF executive council member

Justin Dustzadeh leads a team responsible for Huawei's software-defined networking (SDN) technology direction, network architecture evolution, as well as standardization strategy for IP, packet and SDN, including collaboration with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). He currently serves as ONF Executive Council Member and the Chair of ONF's Migration Working Group and is also a founding Board member of the CloudEthernet Forum.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sue Kim - gu
Sue Kim - gu