As a new trend begins to emerge and gain traction, making a compelling business case is one of the key milestones toward achieving the Holy Grail: Worldwide adoption. Once that adoption takes place, then flood gates will open. Let’s face it—if everyone could make a compelling business case, then everyone would create them. So what’s the path to a good business case and where do you start? Here are a few suggestions. Consider this a template and a starting point for building a business case for SDN.
What do you want out of SDN?
I have met many customers that have started a short list of ideas for SDN in an effort to first decide what they wanted out of SDN and how it can potentially benefit their company. In this video from this year’s Open Networking Summit, it was apparent that most people believed that SDN would increase network agility by:
- Simplifying configuration and provisioning, thereby reducing OpEx by minimizing or eliminating manual configuration
- Performing traffic engineering with an end-to-end view of the network
- Supporting the dynamic movement, replication and allocation of virtual resources
- Establishing virtual Ethernet networks without VLANs
- Enabling applications to dynamically request services from the network
- Evolving network functionality more rapidly based on a software development lifecycle
- Implementing more effective security functionality
What are the pain points?
I have found that IT teams survey their line of business or departments to learn about their technology needs. With that information, the more savvy teams examine whether the needs can be met by having more nimble IT services that can react quickly and seamlessly to changing conditions. If you perform a similar type of analysis, you can then map the pain points back to IT processes needed and then consider how SDN will help.
In the data center, for example, a common pain point is the desire to make virtual machines (VMs) mobile, or to help manage workloads or for HA. The challenge is how to move a VM without disrupting the underlying network. Here the goal is to have a means to move the VMs and seamlessly “orchestrate” changes in the physical network.
Set up a Proof of Concept
Also at ONS this year, many proclaimed that 2014 is the year of the SDN Proof of Concept (POC). It means setting up an SDN test bed and determining if the SDN solution can deliver the benefits you’re expecting. Note that the SDN setup time should be included in any evaluation of the approach, along with the time it takes to achieve the benefits you are seeking.
In a data center project, the SDN POC would ideally mock up two racks: one with SDN and one without SDN. This POC would look at the operational aspects of reassigning VLANs and creating virtual domains within a fixed IP fabric. Thinking in terms of service metrics, such as time-to-new application or service availability, or time-to-fault resolution, will help create tangible benefits and metrics for judging the value of SDN.
Similar to what many IT leaders found with cloud or BYOD initiatives, giving visibility for SDN can help you bring the company together and build support for improving how IT can drive the business. If you understand the pain points and how SDN can improve operations for the data center, you can evangelize how SDN can be a competitive advantage for each department.
Determine SDN cost savings
Based on an understanding of the improvement in operational efficiency between using an SDN solution and managing networks more traditionally, you can come up with a comparison of CapEx and OpEx costs for the two different approaches. You should prepare a multi-year financial analysis of the costs and benefits that will sell the solution over the long term.
Create a presentation
Finally, create a presentation that summarizes your findings. It does not have to be flashy, but instead use it as a tool to crystallize your thinking and help the broader audience see the big picture, and that you have defined a path and metrics for success. It’s important to tie the benefits of SDN back to direct business value, so you should include some examples of how SDN eliminates pain points in business units and enables the IT department to perform more efficiently and cost effectively. The presentation should also address what your IT organization will do to mitigate the risk associated with implementing the SDN solution.
Garnering resources for any project can be an arduous initiative. Building a successful business case for SDN in particular can contribute to that difficulty. As noted at the beginning of this blog, use this as a template to get started. By putting yourself in a position to focus on the POCs, you will discover that the results will speak for themselves and go a long way to help strip away the SDN hype—and more importantly—help your business perform better.