One of the great things about both VMware NSX and Cisco ACI is that both have brought a great deal of attention to Software Defined Networking (SDN). SDN is fascinating and innovating technology. Whether you are taking Cisco’s programmable hardware-based approach or VMware’s network overlay approach, the technology enables network managers to deliver network infrastructure in a new model. However, SDN alone isn’t very compelling from a business perspective.
Like any technology, you have to be able to show the ultimate value to the business. Today’s network is based on solid fundamental model that works. If you look at the fundamental capability of getting data from point A to point B then the current model has served us well for the past couple of decades. A valid comparison is IP Phones. Today, if you were to look at a new telephony project then there wouldn’t be any question if to go with a traditional PBX or IP-based telephony system. Ten years ago it was extremely debatable. There was nothing fundamentally improved in the experience of placing a phone call with voice over IP (VoIP). It wasn’t until the business value of applications such as customer service portals, video collaboration and presence were firmly introduced that IP telephony became the default for communication systems.
The business case for IP telephony isn’t better voice communication. IP telephony is part of a larger digital collaboration project that includes video, instant messaging and conferencing which in turn created better productivity and new business applications. These are business values that executives can relate. SDN’s value is very similar.
Similar to IP telephony there’s a significant cost associated with deploying SDN. When considering a business case for SDN it needs to be packaged with a larger business objective. A great example would be security. If you are in a virtual first data center then, VMware is telling a great story around their “Goldilocks Zone” for NSX. Another driver is hybrid and private cloud. Both VMware and Cisco preach the virtues of application level integration of network control that is enabled by SDN.
Ultimately, when going into an executive’s office to pitch a business solution, SDN should just be part of your appendix. It’s a great technology that supports a larger transformation effort.