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5 steps for the successful adoption of software-defined networking

Guidance on what you should consider when adopting SDN

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Sanjay Nahar

Senior Product Manager, Fixed Connectivity, Vodafone Global Enterprise

If you’re reading this, you’ll no doubt have already considered software-defined networking to move control and management of your network to the cloud.

Digitally transforming your enterprise can offer huge opportunities for business and lay the foundations for growth. However, it’s important that you adopt the right strategy to help you achieve your business goals. The following five steps offer advice on what you should consider before making any decisions on solutions or providers.

Step 1: Explore

First and foremost, it’s important to establish what you are setting out to achieve. Is it to simplify processes, increase productivity or strengthen the security of your network?

It could be that you are responding to customer demand, or a combination of all of these.

Knowing what drives your need for transformation will be critical in the technology you choose to adopt. A good network provider should work with you to help define your goals and offer advice on the right technology to help you achieve them.

The need for network transformation may be the result of internal pressures. Do you want a more agile network to cope with the demands of the business? Or do you need better connectivity to deliver services to existing estates where the network is impacting business performance?

Network operations can become over-complicated. So, you may want to gain a better view of it and understand how your network can help simplify tasks.

Are you looking to adopt a software-defined network to increase reliability? Outages can have a detrimental effect on your bottom line. Plus, the reputational damage to your brand can be considerable and difficult to recover from – Gartner estimates outages cost the average enterprise $300,000 per hour.1

Perhaps you’re experiencing an increase in security threats? Ask prospective providers what they can offer to ensure your network is not compromised in the future.

Before developing a strategy to take your business forward, it is also worth looking at how it is operating today to identify any underlying issues that have triggered the need to make network improvements. Understanding the baseline you are starting from will make it easier to map the end state that you want to achieve and be clear on why you are doing this. Your reason for change could be any or a combination of these:

  • Continued pressure to meet your budget KPIs
  • Your connectivity has become increasingly complex
  • Your expansion programme is proving costly
  • You lack control and visibility of your network
  • You lack the insight to be agile and responsive
  • Your network suffers from interrupted service
  • Your business has suffered from a cyber-attack.

Once your business and network transformation needs have been identified, you may want to seek out a provider to discuss your options. To get the most from your initial consultation, it’s vital that an assessment is carried out to determine how your current network is limiting your capabilities. A good provider will work with you to ensure the end result aligns with your digital strategy.

Step 2: Assess

When carrying out an audit of your network, be sure to include the following:

Maturity assessment – What are your business’ current digital capabilities? Assess key criteria: service, operational agility, digital processes, commercial models and network architecture.

Industry benchmarking – How does your business compare with a spectrum of your competitors? The work you will have done in the explore stage will help with this benchmarking.

Step 3: Evaluate

Network solutions can come in many forms. A good provider will work with you to help you identify what works best for your business. Points worth considering are:

  • Do you require plug and play to be managed internally, or do you want a managed service from your provider?
  • If you are looking for specific business service levels agreements, does your prospective provider have the resource to deliver this?
  • Do you need a solution built on open standards, or do you require a closed environment?
  • Does your favoured provider have the existing service footprint and roadmap to cater for your business needs now, and for future growth?
  • Will your provider offer an existing fixed network and a range of more cost-effective access technologies? Or do they only offer a virtualised overlay?
  • Are you aiming to simplify your network operations, or to increase its performance? Is your provider able to show you what good looks like for you?

Remember, throughout your evaluation, your business digital strategy should be at the heart of your decision-making.

Once you are happy with your evaluation, it’s time to build a business case that will start the change process your organisation must take.

Step 4: Validity

At this stage, it is important to create a clear yet robust business case that highlights benefits for the whole organisation. This is vital for internal stakeholder and decision-maker adoption.

Your business case should align the solution benefits against the challenges and opportunities defined as part of the exploration stage. You should consider the realisation of these benefits against the core aspects of your business – your people, processes, technology, cost management and, crucially, customer experience. A robust case designed in this way will cultivate consensus amongst your peers.

A prospective provider should help you calculate the cost-benefit of the solution you propose to adopt.

Once you have the green light from stakeholders, it’s time to get your provider on board to implement your software-defined network. This stage is critical as it’s up to your provider to ensure your transition plan is designed to keep any business disruption to a minimum.

Stage 5: Deployment

All your hard work to date should not be let down at execution. So, it’s important that the relationship with your provider should be that of a working partnership and a strong team is put in place to deliver your transition project.

A migration plan that takes care of your specific requirements and aligns with your business operations should be defined by goals that are clearly set out at the start of the project.

There are two routes to migration:

  1. A hot cutover: your network will shut down on a site-by-site basis for a matter of minutes to transfer services over to the new software-defined network.
  2. A parallel run: this is a phased migration with old and new networks running simultaneously for a set time. You can then transfer services on a case-by-case basis at your own pace.

Choosing a provider that can offer a managed service with strong project management expertise will help you to successfully deliver on your set goals and drive continuous improvement.

Your chosen provider will also work with you to create a migration unique to your business and the reassurance that this is based on industry best practice.

Whatever route to migration you take, your transition team should be on hand at all times. You should also have a roll-back plan in place, in case any issues occur to ensure business continuity.

Understanding and implementing the path to digital transformation and network migration can be daunting – especially when trying to convince internal stakeholders that it’s a case of when, and not if, change is necessary. With the help of your network provider, migrating to a software-defined network can be a lot less hassle than you might think. You could realise the benefits of SDN and deliver the agile network your business and customers demand, a lot sooner than you think.

1. The Cost of Downtime, by Andrew Lerner

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Did you know?

Vodafone was named as a Challenger in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Network Services, Global in 2018

Vodafone has connected 18.3 million vehicles worldwide by 2017

Vodafone’s high speed and low latency internet capacity has 28Tbps capacity worldwide