By Adi Mukadam
Digital transformations have been accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, the role of the CIO has gone into hyperdrive with no signs of slowing down. But this isn’t the first time IT leadership has been called on to exceed expectations. It’s a bit of a cycle. When a crisis hits, when technology adoption shifts, when customer needs change, the CIO has always been asked to step in and save the day. And this time is no different – well ok there is one difference. This time, CIOs must do more without an increase in resources, if not fewer resources altogether. They must implement new IT strategies, develop better customer experiences, deliver more IT innovation – and all with a growing skills gap, tighter timeframes, constrained budgets AND a distributed workforce.
This is what I like to call, the CIO Conundrum: How can you do everything expected of your expanding role – from creating new products, generating new revenue streams and optimizing business processes to managing security to refining business strategy. How can you possibly do more with less?
In order to meet growing business expectations, IT leadership must make better use of cutting-edge technologies to improve efficiencies, automate and scale, freeing up time and resources to focus on driving business outcomes. The first step to achieving this nirvana is network modernization – an important foundational element in driving successful cloud and digital initiatives.
What’s special about a modern network?
Legacy networks catered to centralized apps and predictable demands, operating under more of a set-it-and-forget-it principle. Now, with the emergence of digital, networks carry a lot of critical date that is mined for business intelligence, optimization and innovation. Software-defined networking, or SDN, enables the network to be more flexible, so that it can react to changes in business needs quickly and proactively detect network behavior to automatically adjust network and security resources accordingly.
A transition to SDN is an important part of network modernization and a CIO’s overall IT strategy – it’s the key to helping IT leaders adapt to changing business needs. Here’s why:
- Efficiency – SDN enables companies to operate their networks more efficiently – embracing the cloud, IoT, remote access, and other technologies that increase business agility. SDN can also eliminate the need for huge hardware purchases, thereby reducing costs.
- Visibility and flexibility – SDN can replace traditional hardware-based equipment giving IT teams more flexibility, visibility and control over their networks. By decoupling the software from the networking hardware, SDN allows network administrators to route traffic through software-based controls. This gives network administrators the ability to manage their networks through the proverbial single pane of glass instead of configuring each network device separately.
SDN is also an important piece of a company’s cloud migration. The cloud provides agility, flexibility and scalability, but the cloud is an operating model in terms of how you run the network. It’s the path, not the destination. In other words, network modernization can make or break your cloud migration.
- Shifting resources – SDN enables quick provisioning of network resources when capacity demands shift – including needs around edge computing, IoT, and remote access, for example. The IoT requires a lot of data to be transmitted across the corporate network, and SDN helps network teams manage that traffic more easily – deep visibility helps network managers understand the behavior of any new applications on the network and ensures the existing applications are not impacted.
- Security – One thing that’s top of mind for CIOs today is security. In particular, securing the branch or edge as application consumption changes. They’re looking at how to gain more visibility of their network, mitigate risk, and analyze the increasing amount of incoming threat intelligence.
A network modernization vision demands an architecture that combines software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) and high-performing security into a strategic edge-to-cloud service that does not require additional hardware cost and complexity. This new approach will not only satisfy ‘Generation WFH’ with office-like resilience and security, but will also radically simplify WAN deployment, enable a single point for centralized network management, and provide the right bandwidth provision for every user, device, and application. This suite of services now has a name – Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), network and network security functions consumed as a Service.
New distributed networks, with network-attached devices spread out across many locations, can increase an organization’s attack surface, but SDN can help to correlate data more quickly and manage the environment, giving network administrators additional tools to fight against security threats.
Don’t set it and forget it
While SDN can bring several advantages to businesses that adopt it, I see some IT teams still looking to adopt new technology for the sake of the shiny, new technology itself. CIOs and IT decision makers should look first at the business challenges they want to solve, or the business opportunities they want to take advantage of. In some cases, there’s a gap between the CIO’s focus on business needs and the IT team’s focus on leveraging the latest tech combined with the pressure to keep the lights-on. Too often I see companies thinking about the technology without considering the business case for it.
Adopting SDN can be complicated. It’s not simply a case of lifting and shifting SDN into current traffic flows. Implementing SDN is less often a case of plug and play and more often a plug and pray situation. There are many SDN vendors on the market, and tech isn’t always interoperable between vendors. In addition, most organizations don’t have the resources or time to test and select the best fit for them.
An experienced managed services partner can assess a company’s network environment, recommend the right SDN tools and the right deployment, help manage complex connectivity needs and take some of the pressure off of the internal networking team. But one size does not fit all. The right partner can give organizations more network flexibility and enable true network modernization – and a smoother path to a successful digital transformation.