SDN can enable digital transformation

The more intelligence you apply across your enterprise the better your business will perform, that’s one way with which to regard the evolution of the network-based enterprise at this time of digital transformation.

Think about the impact of sensors and remote monitoring systems across your enterprise IT deployments. We’re only at the beginning of this wave but already we see very clear signs that connected technologies can have a huge impact on the way we work.

Today up to 90 percent of organisations are suffering from a lack of standard processes, ad hoc troubleshooting tools, and ambiguous roles and responsibilities for IT staff, which means they endure extended network downtime and increased operational costs.

When it comes to networking devices, these problems can be mitigated by splitting the software that determines how the device controls and directs data from the packet-forwarding engine, and centralising it. This makes its possible to create networks that are configured by a central, software-based controller, a “software-defined network” (SDN).

“Software is eating the world,” said futurologist, Gerd Leonhard at a recent Orange Business event. “Everything that used to be hardware is now software.”

What are the advantages of this?

Dimension Data’s annual Network Barometer Report claims SDN slashes the time to troubleshoot faulty networking devices by a massive 75 percent and cuts the time to fix them by almost a third. Add in notions of scale and this valuable additional uptime represents an immediate productivity gain across all the enterprise elements reliant on the network.

It’s just a shame this isn’t happening. It’s no secret (think ZK Research's estimate that 83% of IT spend is devoted to keeping the lights on) enterprises must work within limited budgets, which causes them to use equipment until it is obsolete, adopting a reactive rather than proactive approach to necessary infrastructure investments.

Dimension Data found 53 percent of enterprise IT equipment in use today is ageing or obsolete and 74 percent of current Wi-Fi access points can’t support “advanced mobility requirements”.

From the US, Brocade's "New IP Survey Report", found just over 10 percent of 200 federal IT managers felt their agency's network infrastructure was fully able to support the kind of scalable and agile solutions they will need in future.

Accenture claims the use of digital technologies could add $1.36 trillion to the world’s top ten economies by 2020. In order to gain the productivity and efficiency benefits of smart networks, enterprises must adopt a proactive approach to infrastructure investment.

Think about the increasingly essential part cloud services have to play in business and the imminent invasion of switched on IoT devices – surely enterprises should already be future-proofing themselves by investing in kit today to get them through tomorrow?

A 2014 Forrester report found that while 73 percent of executives believe their company has a digital strategy in place, just 19 percent think they have the right technology to execute it

Dimension Data suggests the most effective way to improve your network’s ability to support your business is to “invest in maturing your organization’s network monitoring, support, and management systems and processes, rather than refreshing technology simply for the sake of avoiding obsolescence.”

Cash-strapped budget holders have every right to sweat assets for as long as they can in order to derive the most they can from them, but in doing so they need to be wary they aren’t limiting business growth by failing to put in place the technology infrastructure that’s required for digital transformation.

Digital should, “reinvent rather than simply automate key business processes to boost efficiency and productivity,” says Accenture.

It’s time to audit where in your business intelligent hardware could unleash these chances, and begin to make the budgeting and purchasing decisions required in order to deploy it.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.