How can CIOs harness software defined IT?

Two years ago the industry was welcoming the era of software defined IT. Today, that warm welcome still stands as more and more companies are embracing software defined networking (SDN), SD-WAN, cloud migration, and software as a service (SaaS) technologies.

Additionally, as the digital evolution of business exponentially accelerates, there have been profound impacts on innovation and the role of the CIO. As decision-makers look to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of their overall IT environment, it’s important to explore changes in IT delivery and the benefits that SDN can bring.


A new IT architecture has emerged that encompasses SaaS, software defined networking, hyper-scale cloud computing, and the consumerisation of IT. Taken together, we call this architectural approach software defined IT.

>See also: Software agnostic: how the CIO is transforming in the application

The concept of SDN begins with 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 on commodity hardware. When coupled with virtual machine (VM) technology, this allows a single vendor-agnostic server to perform multiple virtualised 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.

Rapid adoption of technology drives the need for SDN

Gartner predicts spending in public cloud services will reach $186.4 billion in 2018, whilst investment in traditional hardware and systems is expected to lay low. It’s clear from the report that businesses are continuing to maximise spending in on-demand services such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and communication as a service (CaaS).

With this mass migration to the cloud, the world is advancing at a faster and faster pace. 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 – causing the adoption, maturation, and social application of new technologies to occur in a shorter time frame.

>See also: The CIO’s role is changing – here’s why

For instance, it appears that SD-WAN will fall “victim” to this increased velocity and will become just a feature within regular networks – absorbed into the functionality – becoming yet another example of how quickly a new category of product transitions from experimental, to a standalone product, to a feature within existing solutions. Under shortened life cycle phases, it’s expected that SD-WAN will be absorbed over the course of 24-36 months, rather than the previous 5-7 year period.

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 organisations must embrace this fact or the world will pass them by. It can be time consuming and all too easy for IT leaders to explore new ideas without actually implementing them across the organisation. This process can cause constant urgency, strategic uncertainty and dampens progress. Put simply, it can be difficult for CIOs and other decision makers to know where to focus.

While there is no single solution for this challenge, CIOs should continue to focus on their core competencies. Utilising technologies like SDN can help to build extreme responsiveness and agility into the business’ infrastructure. For instance, SDN can be used to quickly and easily create experimental environments which easily allow the testing of new disruptive technologies – driving down the time-to-value and time-to-market.

>See also: Technology predictions for 2018 – the CIO will lead the way

As overall IT budgets flat line, increasingly 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. Harnessing managed services partners with agile and scalable solution platforms is key to being able to focus scarce IT resources on the things that really differentiate the company. Additionally, SDN has the ability to make technology more accessible, instantly programmable, and linkable through powerful integration tools. Hybrid networking and software defined platforms help CIOs build a blended approach, augmenting legacy systems with the advantages of modern capabilities.

The future of SDN

Since the era of SDN 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 and Zapier are the next-generation of enterprise integration tools. These “citizen IT” tools are letting the everyday employee connect all cloud applications so they can talk to one another, exchange data, and perform complex workflows – all without having to generate a line of code. The result is one powerful string of SaaS applications that make a unified system. Because of this flexibility, it could be proposed that iPaaS should sit within the SDN toolkit of technologies.

Best-of-breed companies are using iPaaS to tie all these individual cloud tools and technologies together, building an abstraction between them. That layer of abstraction (the API or web services layer) provides the ability to switch out tools and capitalise on the latest or cheapest technologies on the market. The drop-and-swap process is much easier than our complex API integrations of the past.

>See also: UK wasting £37 billion a year on failed agile IT projects

This is a high level of abstraction and why iPaaS is highly-relevant to the development and innovation of the future workplace. However, 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 line with organisational change.

This is why CIOs need to recruit “citizen integrators” who can both piece together all the processes and solutions as well as maintain agility to respond to the changing business conditions. The scarcity of IT resources is a reality that the majority of organisations will continue to face. Despite this challenge, market and stakeholder demands remain unchanged to drive innovation and profits.

To keep pace, digital transformation will be a critical component of enterprise business strategy, which points to the advantages SDN offers. When coupled with iPaaS, this digital shift can be successfully accelerated to truly realise this notable change.


Sourced by Tim Naramore, chief technology officer at Masergy

Avatar photo

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

Related Topics

Digital Transformation