Enterprises across the globe are facing a critical dilemma. On the one hand, they have never been under more pressure to be agile as they see rapid digital transformation and disruption in their key markets. A recent Gartner report found that 62 percent of organisations are putting programmes in place to drive digitalisation.
On the other hand, the expansion of their IT ecosystems – with cloud deployments and a massive increase in applications and devices – complicates their ability to be agile, particularly given the prevalence of legacy IT infrastructure.
It is this contradiction that is driving the rapid uptake of software-defined networking (SDN); the automation and virtualisation of network operations. In our latest research, we found that 15 percent of organisations have already deployed this emerging technology or have begun piloting it. But – perhaps even more importantly – the pace of adoption is expected to accelerate rapidly: within two years, 57 percent of organisations expect to have done this.
See also: Uncovering The Truths About SD-WAN
These statistics are a clear reflection of the market as it stands, with major firms beginning to acknowledge that greater business model agility will be key to their survival. In fact, there are five common drivers that are pushing organisations to this realisation.
1: Inflexible Network Plans are Halting Innovation
Almost one-in-two organisations (49 percent) cite the need to scale network functionality as a leading business trigger for SDN adoption, ahead of any other catalyst identified. This statistic is far from surprising – enterprises need a network that is agile enough to support their business as every function attempts to respond more quickly to changing market conditions.
What’s more, this challenge is sector agnostic: in almost every industry imaginable, businesses are attempting to support an ever-increasing number of applications and devices as they add new features to their products and services. Very often, network capacity and complexity stand in the way of this imperative – at the least – delaying enterprises’ ability to innovate.
SDN provides a potential solution to this problem. It offers a means to manage network functionality from the centre, implementing changes to applications across multiple devices from a single point, rather than device-by-device. This decreases the time required to flex, pivot and expand as the organisation’s requirements evolve.
2: Sluggish Innovation Means Missed Opportunities
Ultimately, any IT strategy must be based around the business outcomes it is targeting – it should support competitive advantage. In a marketplace where windows of opportunity are continuously shrinking, this advantage will be lost if the organisation is not able to innovate at speed.
This is a key driver for SDN adoption. The fact that SDN is a centralised, policy-based way of managing IT assets means organisations can innovate faster. Each new application or iteration can be rolled out from the centre, with devices that automatically configure themselves through a link back to the controller and the new policies that have been set.
In a world where customer appetites must be satisfied on-demand, but change quickly and unpredictably, SDN can bridge the gap – underpinning the “fail fast” mentality that we are increasingly seeing. New products and services reach their target markets more quickly and can be updated or replaced at will.
3: The Need for Speed
Not only do enterprises need to jump on opportunities quickly, but they must also have the agility and flexibility to improve services across the business. This means so the speed with which an SDN deployment can be made is seen as another huge driver for adoption.
Enabling each business unit to move more quickly individually is crucial. In many organisations, it’s not uncommon to hear that different departments are attempting to innovate independently of one another – and of the IT function – only to discover that their IT infrastructure does not allow them to move at the pace they expect. For business users able to access on-demand services outside of work, this is frustrating and limiting.
In this context, SDN further supports the organisation’s capacity for innovation – the extent to which it can pilot and roll-out new initiatives – whether internally or customer-facing. SDN provides a practical solution to the network complexity that otherwise threatens experimentation and transformation.
4: Security Concerns are Inhibiting Creativity
In a world where organisations have never been more conscious of cybersecurity and the growing threat landscape, the fear of a major breach or failure inhibits innovation. Businesses worry that moving too quickly or working with new partners will expose them to additional vulnerabilities. Understandably, their response is to focus on resilience, but this is often to the detriment of agility.
SDN can enhance enterprise security in both technical and practical ways. Firstly, fully enclosed networks carrying encrypted traffic are inherently more secure than enterprises’ traditional network solutions. For another, SDN provides the organisation with the opportunity to build existing application security into users’ virtual environments.
This means businesses are better able to manage their IT resilience while simultaneously pursuing the innovation they so desperately need.
5: Maintaining Efficiency Will Keep Organisations Innovating for Longer
If “fail fast” is a crucial principle for many organisations in this new world of transformation, so too is “fail cheap”. As they experiment with new applications and trial new products and services, businesses with costly and cumbersome IT infrastructure will quickly be overwhelmed.
The fact that SDN is managed at the center, stripping out the need for individual device reconfiguration for each new iteration of an application, is potentially of huge value here.
But the even greater long-term opportunity may be to see SDN adoption as part of a move towards network transformation, as enterprise-wide virtualisation will deliver a lean and efficient organisation ready for the challenges of the next five years and beyond.