The New Era of Software Defined IT: Where We’re Headed Next
Two years ago, I was welcoming our customers to the era of software defined IT (SDIT). Today, that warm welcome still stands as more and more companies are embracing software defined networking (SDN), software defined WAN (SD-WAN), cloud migration, and software as a service (SaaS) technologies. As this digital evolution exponentially accelerates, we see profound impacts on innovation and the role of the CIO. Where is SDIT taking us next? What do we need to know about these transformational changes? How should we respond? Let’s explore this new era.
What is Software Defined IT?
A new IT architecture has emerged that encompasses SaaS, SDN, hyper-scale cloud computing, and the consumerization of IT. Taken together, we call this architectural approach SDIT.
Software defined IT empowers enterprises to strategically innovate, shifting IT infrastructures from legacy cost centers to strategic revenue generators driving digital transformation. Automated by intelligent software, these IT environments allow CIOs to trade manual processes, hardware, and capex-focused purchases for agile services with opex-oriented approaches that drive both efficiency and value. This disruptive infrastructure model is being applied everywhere and now appears on the front of seemingly everything: software defined data center, software defined networking, software defined WAN, and the list goes on. Arguably, SDIT can be viewed as evidence of the “digital vortex” or the “inevitable movement of industries toward a ‘digital center’ in which business models, offerings, and value chains are digitized to the maximum extent possible” (Global Center for Digital Business Transformation Center, an IMD and Cisco initiative, 2015).
One key example of software defined IT is software defined networking. The concept begins with the separation of the data plane from the control plane and the decoupling of network functions from dedicated hardware and embedded software. The continuing growth in general purpose CPU power means many networking tasks that once required dedicated hardware can now operate in software on commodity hardware. Coupled with virtual machine (VM) technology, this allows a single vendor-agnostic server to perform multiple virtualized network functions (VNF) that previously required separate dedicated hardware devices.
The connections between the VNFs are handled by a virtual switch that connects the VNFs into a seamless network fabric. Additionally, key to the SDN model is the ability to install, control, and manage those VNFs programmatically via an application program interface (API). This allows customers to completely automate the provisioning of their IT infrastructure from compute and storage to network and applications.
SDIT Today: Accelerated Change Drives Urgency, Uncertainty, and the Need for SDN
The premises that software defined IT laid out with SaaS and cloud have all been borne out. We see these worlds exploding with popularity and adoption. Gartner predicts spending in public cloud services will reach $186.4 billion in 2018, excluding cloud advertising, which was removed from Gartner’s public cloud service forecast segments (Gartner, Forecast: Public Cloud Services, Worldwide, 2015-2021, 4Q17 Update, 15 January 2018 G00343435).
Alongside the mass migration to the cloud, the world is advancing at a faster and faster pace. With today’s velocity of change, new disruptive technologies are being released and adopted at accelerating speeds. This has led to technology maturity cycles becoming increasingly compressed--meaning that the adoption, maturation, and social application of new technologies now occurs in a shorter time frame.In the IT space for example, it appears that SD-WAN will fall “victim” to this increased velocity. Fast forward 12 to 24 months from now and I anticipate SD-WAN will be just another integrated routing feature as opposed to the standalone device it is today. It will become yet another example of how quickly a new product transitions from experimental, to a standalone product, to a feature within existing solutions.
With the rapid rate of change, CIOs are taking the brunt of the impact. To succeed in this climate, they must become change agents, and organizations must embrace this fact or the world will pass them by. How do you make progress when you spend everyday looking at a new idea deciding that’s the one you’re going to implement tomorrow--and tomorrow brings the next big idea? This dynamic causes constant urgency and strategic uncertainty, which is difficult for CIOs, decision makers, sales, etc. Quite simply, executives don’t know where to focus.
While there is no single solution for this challenge, CIOs should continue to focus on their core competencies, rapid testing, and succeeding or failing fast. Don’t run your data center unless you’re a data center company, and don’t forget to leverage technologies like SDN to build extreme responsiveness and agility into your business infrastructure. For instance, use SDN to quickly and easily “spin-up” test environments where you can safely experiment with new disruptive technologies, driving down your time-to-value and time-to-market. Having partners with agile and scalable solutions is key to being able to focus scarce IT resources on the things that really differentiate your company.
Overall, IT budgets are flat, but CIOs are expected to do more with less, all while not dropping the ball on existing infrastructure and investments that need to reach the end of their contracts. Software defined IT can help. It makes technology more accessible, instantly programmable, and linkable through powerful integration tools. Foundationally, hybrid networking and software defined platforms help CIOs build a blended approach, augmenting legacy systems with the advantages of modern capabilities.
Where is SDIT Leading Us Next? iPaaS Application Strings
Since the era of software defined IT began, the business case and justification for investment has become even more compelling. Take for example integration platforms as a service (iPaaS). If-this-then-that integration technologies such as CloudPipes are the next generation of SDIT. These “citizen IT” tools are letting your everyday employee connect all cloud applications so they can talk to one another, exchange data, and automate complex workflows--all without having to generate a line of code. The result is one powerful string of SaaS applications that form a unified and automated system driving the future of business process automation.
Best-of-breed companies are using iPaaS to zip-tie all these individual cloud tools and technologies together, building an abstraction between them. That layer of abstraction (the API or web services layer) allows you to then switch tools out, so you can always leverage the latest or cheapest technologies on the market. Like snipping and zipping zip ties, the drop-and-swap process is much easier than our complex API integrations of the past.
This is a high level of abstraction and why iPaaS is the source of innovation, significant in the development of our future workplace. And in the day and age when the velocity of change is accelerating, keeping these iPaaS application strings updated will be a real challenge. Process automation solutions will need to advance in step with organizational change. This is why CIOs will need to recruit “citizen integrators” who can both piece together all the processes and maintain them as well.
Making Tomorrow Possible Today: Avoiding Piecemeal Products
For many CIOs, the biggest network challenge is finding the right network partner to build, implement, manage, and help monitor a global networking solution including security--all while delivering both performance visibility and granular remote control. Most legacy providers are still in the mode of selling piecemeal products, expecting you (the IT department) to install, configure, integrate, maintain, monitor and manage the alerts.
Here at Masergy, things are different. While other companies look at SDN as the latest “shiny object” to tack onto the network, we built our platform on a software-defined foundation more than a decade ago. Our Software Defined Platform has continued to expand in scope and functionality offering:
- Software-defined virtual private network (SD-VPN): With the unique way Masergy virtualized WAN connectivity, customers can deploy an unlimited number of SD-VPNs for MPLS, VPLS, and VPWS connectivity on their WAN over a single attachment circuit. Masergy SD-VPNs delivers fully-meshed Layer 2 and 3, public and private connectivity anywhere in the world.
- Unparalleled service level agreements (SLAs): Get unparalleled SLAs on all SD-VPNs running on our Software Defined Platform. An industry-first, Masergy provides SLAs to cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and any of the hundreds of SaaS vendors available on our Direct Cloud Connect marketplace
- Fully custom hybrid networks: With Masergy you get hybrid networking that is built for customers’ unique requirements and delivers a seamless experience around the globe.
- Network Analyst is an SDN-powered SaaS application: Masergy’s analytics tools are controlled by SDN APIs, letting customers have all of the features of a network packet analyzer without the need for physical hardware deployed across the network.
- Masergy Managed Firewall: These services virtualize the functionality of an on-premise firewall appliance in the cloud. We leverage similar NFV architecture to provision, control, and deploy network security across our customers’ WANs.
- Intelligent Service Control (ISC): Get real-time control of bandwidth allocation via our customer management portal. The same API found in ISC provides the foundation for our native iOS and Android mobile clients, enabling network administrators to provision bandwidth at sites and control networks from any location, at any time of day.
- Access-agnostic SD-WAN: Masergy’s solutions support MPLS, DIA, broadband Internet, and LTE connections, giving you the benefits of an agile global network in a customizable, secure, and fully-managed turnkey solution.
While many network operators are just beginning to understand the importance of SDN, Masergy has been putting the concept of the software defined enterprise into practice for years, helping customers reduce the complexity of global network performance and increase the rate of change and innovation. Learn more about Masergy’s Hybrid Networking solutions.