Role Of Channel In Getting Firms On Track For Software-Defined IT
By Srikanth Natarajan, Director, Channels and Alliances, Brocade India
We’ve gone from connecting places, to connecting people, to connecting things now. These growing network connections and ever increasing influx of data have generated greater demands on the organisations’ network infrastructure. Given this, many enterprises are now preparing for network modernisation, driven by the need to be more agile, responsive, competitive and cost effective.
Virtualisation and cloud models are scaling applications at a pace to meet demand but require greater network agility and performance, as well as reduced operational cost and complexity. All of these factors are placing pressure on an infrastructure that, frankly, was never architected for these growing demands. The 3rd platform and how cloud, mobile and big data operates and how the network responds to these demands requires a new way of thinking.
To truly modernise, organisations must holistically move to the New IP – a user-driven, software-centric, virtualised infrastructure based on open standards and offering low operational expenditure (OpEx). Many customers believe that a software-based approach will deliver the automation that they need to fit the new business challenges. SDN provides the tools to manage and control network services and infrastructure, whether it’s been virtualized or not. SDN is more than just a hype or beta technology right now. While there are many organizations that have implemented SDN solutions in their environment and others are in the process of testing a solution, the many benefits provided by SDN should help push the holdouts to go for SDN implementation in the near future.
The Channel’s Greatest Opportunity
The channel definitely does understand that the future lies with the provision of software-defined ‘everything’ and you can see the likes of Intel, VMware and Brocade discussing how infrastructure, storage and networking solutions can provide a complimentary solution for enterprise of all sizes.
Partners need to understand and prioritise whether they want to build a specialist capability or choose to partner with a specialist in these key areas. Today channel partners are providing end to end solutions to the customers. Our belief is that it is important that partners choose what they are good at and stick to it, and if they need a specialist addition then find those specialists to partner with.
Deepen your skill set
This changing shift to a world of software-defined everything has introduced the need for a deepening of the skill set partners bring to the table. We are now in a space where we are moving from implementation to architectural design and integration capabilities. The shift is no longer putting an appliance into a rack and plugging in the cables.
We need experts to discuss the strategic possibilities of the network – the impacts, rules and managing data. The 3rd platform will introduce agility and greater programmability. The deeper the networking skills our partners can bring to the table will have a direct impact on their value to customers and will lead to differentiation and lead to higher professional services rates.
Some are already on their way, but to truly know if they are headed in the right direction, a five-point checklist can be used for assessment:
Standards: Proprietary or Open?
The New IP is fuelled by open-sourced initiatives such as OpenDaylight and OpenStack, designed to support SDN and cloud adoption. . A survey commissioned by the consortium behind the OpenDaylight Project, found many agreed that open-source software represents greater choice, interoperability and lower costs. Selecting vendors that follow open standards brings an added advantage: spurring innovation.
Therefore, one of the first things IT leaders should consider while undertaking network modernisation, is whether the network will be open-sourced and multi-vendor.
The Future of Networking Hardware is in Software
The network is in many ways the last frontier for IT infrastructure innovation. Designed to work with virtualised environments, technologies such as SDN and NFV enable organisations to more efficiently utilise the benefits of cloud and mobile technologies.
SDN provides automation, programmability and can be automatically reconfigured to address increasing traffic flows. Accelerated Ethernet fabric-based hardware that delivers high utilisation, performance and resiliency will continue to play a dominant role for years to come in the IP network. Therefore, organisations should select hardware that can deploy SDN as they transition to the New IP.
IT Spending: On upfront costs and maintenance, or innovation?
In legacy networks,most of an organisation’s budget goes to maintenance with not much left for innovation. . SDN lowers overall operating costs and results in administrative savings as many of the routine network administration issues can be centralized and automated.
New IP-based network infrastructure brings a long-term lifespan compared to the planned obsolescence of a legacy network, which can help direct IT spending to innovation instead of maintenance. As organisations shift IT infrastructure to the New IP, they can reduce costs while increasing network capabilities.
Shifting Control to the Organisation
History has illustrated that when a vendor gains control, the customer loses control of their CapEx, Opex and innovation. There is only one source for products, solutions, architecture and technology, and the vendor is free to dictate all those on behalf of the organisation.
Vendors gain control through vendor lock-in and proprietary technologies. Yet today, networking is still very much vendor lock-in as innovation has not progressed much beyond some new protocols and bigger, higher-density boxes over the last two decades.
Companies and businesses should regain control from vendors with the New IP platform bringing potential with technologies like SDN and NFV. Networking software components should be able to run on any hardware, and support open-sourced, open APIs and open standards.
Is There a Place for Networking Hardware?
Networking hardware will be required, as long as virtual machines need to run on physical servers. . However, in the face of network virtualisation, the physical network must exhibit higher reliability, greater automation in the network device itself, be able to respond to automation tools and SDN solutions, and provide greater intelligence to the software layer on top.
Gartner recently developed a report positioning Ethernet fabrics as the solution to the challenges of data centre physical networks. Ethernet Fabrics form the foundation for a virtualised data centre but not all fabrics are created equal, so it pays to evaluate if they have the features needed to work and integrate with network virtualisation technologies.
It’s all about Customer Intent
The biggest challenges we face today is acknowledging the importance of understanding a customer’s intent to adopt these platforms. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time in this education phase, as we are in the adoption cycle and we need to work very closely to clarify any misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. We find the biggest thing is setting the right steps of a journey to achieve the end goal.
Moving to the SDN approach is not a rip and replace, it is an integration play. Customers will find some of their existing network and equipment will stay and that’s fine. Our goal is to work with partners and vendor suppliers to fine tune this path. We don’t believe that any one has all the answers and at this point it is critical to re-address plans for future network.