Software-Defined Networking: The Impact on the Enterprise

By Graham Robinson, Group Practice Manager – Data#3

[Reading time: 2 mins]

For decades, enterprise networks have consisted of self-contained devices which used a complex combination of proprietary silicon, bespoke firmware, and feature-rich software to move packets around quickly and securely. As networks have evolved to offer additional services, the level of product complexity has created issues for developers and network engineers alike.

However, as I outlined recently, Cisco’s recent introduction of the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) offers a new, more efficient way of delivering network services. By breaking down traditional product development boundaries using a service-orientated architecture (SOA), the once monolithic products are being restructured into a set of self-contained services which can be accessed individually, and communicate through sets of well-documented application programming interfaces (API).

By making these APIs publically accessible, Cisco has created the ability for Cisco, 3rd party software providers and even in-house engineers to write applications which simplify the configuration of entire networks, even abstracting device-level configurations into policies and policy-engines, which automatically configure devices based upon a desired operational outcome.

With policy-engines slowly eliminating the need for manual configuration, enterprises will see a significant reduction in total cost of ownership as engineers spend less time configuring, managing and troubleshooting enterprise networks. Moreover, the increased configuration consistency, access to analytics (via APIs), and ease of feature deployment will deliver levels of operational transparency and network security never before possible.

As companies progressively move to reduce costs by adopting a policy-driven approach, many will require significant infrastructure upgrades to achieve the promised stability, security and operational cost savings. However, more than that, to deploy and support this new infrastructure, engineers will need undergo a significant skills transformation – shedding much of today’s manual configuration skills, and instead combining their deep network knowledge with new software skills.

And while the rate at which companies will adopt policy-driven infrastructure will vary based on a range of circumstances, what’s certain is that the transition is already happening. Cisco’s DNA is just one example of how software development is already redefining enterprise IT.

With such a significant change on the horizon, the next five years will fundamentally redefine what it means to be a network engineer as hardware, software and entire businesses become increasingly interdependent.

This is the second of a four-part of a four-part series to help network engineers understand how software development will impact the enterprise network, and how augmenting their existing skills with even basic software development capabilities will help build more stable, secure and efficient networks to support business applications.

Tags: Cisco, Networking