Guess what CIO: there is a revolution that is just starting in the world of computer networking. Sure, you know about the importance of information technology but are you going to be ready for this? For the longest time, we’ve all been building our networks in pretty much the same way: we go to a big equipment vendor such as Cisco, Juniper, HP, IBM, etc. and buy a bunch of boxes. We then string them together, get some expensive software and then sit back and hope that everything connects together. It turns out that there is a better way to do all of this.
Say Hello To Software Defined Networking
What has changed for person with the CIO job is that a new way of building computer networks has arrived. The new approach is called Software Defined Networking or SDN. In the world of SDN, your network will no longer be populated by a bunch of very smart boxes from Cisco. Instead, you’ll be buying dumb white label boxes and deploying them throughout your network. Once you’ve done this, you’ll then install a very powerful server at the heart of your network and you’ll run a fancy control program on it to control all of your “dumb” network elements.
The basic idea behind SDN is to centralize all of the intelligence in a network. Instead of distributing your processing power throughout each piece of expensive networking gear that you add to your network, you now place all of your network smarts in one place. One big advantage of doing things this way is that updating your network software just go a lot easier: you now only have to update the software that is running on one server, not on the 100’s of boxes that you have deployed in your network.
SDN provides a lot of other benefits. Network equipment costs should be lowered dramatically because you’ll no longer need “smart” boxes. When a network failure occurs, the network routing protocol that is running on the central server should be able to converge faster because it has a god’s- eye view of every thing that is happening in the network.
This Changes Everything
As the person in the CIO position, you need to grasp just exactly what the implications that the arrival of SDN networks may mean for your organization. What we are seeing is a fundamental shift in how computer networks are going to be built. We are moving away from computer networks that are defined by their hardware and moving towards computer networks that are being implemented primarily in software. The implications of this are quite large.
When you implement a computer network in software, you now have the ability to change how the network behaves not by sending a technician out to reconfigure hardware, but rather by making changes to the software that is running your network. This means that you’ll be able to adapt your computer network to the environment that it finds itself in much quicker than you have ever been able to do before.
Although this SDN stuff may strike you as being the stuff of academic fantasy, what you need to understand is that SDN has already arrived. Over at Google they have taken one of the primary backbone networks that they use to interconnect their data centers and converted to to now use SDN technology. The results have been nothing less than spectacular. They are now doing a much better job of utilizing the links that run between their data centers and they are able to test the impact of network configuration changes long before they deploy them into the network.
What All Of This Means For You
As CIO you need to stay on top of the changes that are occurring in technology that will impact your IT department. The arrival of Software Defined Networking (SDN) is one such new technology. SDN has the potential to completely change how our computer networks are both designed and created.
The way that networks are built today is by purchasing a great deal of expensive, sophisticated networking hardware and then having trained staff interconnect them. With the arrival of SDN, this all changes. Now the network will consist of cheap commodity networking hardware being deployed in the network and a sophisticated control program that manages everything running on a powerful server at the heart of the network. This new way of building a network will allow changes to the network to be made simply by changing the software that the controls the network.
As the CIO you are going to have to understand the impact that SDN is going to have on your IT department. Going forward you are going to have less of a need for network hardware staff and more of a need for staff who can write the software that you’ll need in order to control your network. Take the time now to fully understand what SDN means for your company and you’ll be ready when it shows up on your doorstep.
Question For You: Do you think that it would be worth it to implement a small SDN network in order to gain experience with this new technology?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Pick up any IT trade journal and you’ll probably find an article that is telling CIOs that because of the importance of information technology they need to get a seat at the company’s planning table. In order to do this, they need to become more strategic. I think that we can all agree with this idea; however, the real challenge comes when we try to find the time to do this. Our plates are already overflowing with tasks that we have to do. How is a CIO ever going to get good at doing this strategic planning thing?