Access networks are evolving as enablers of digital transformation
In these times of digital transformation and cloud migration that tend to lower the workload in enterprise-owned datacenters, there is one topic on which network teams are putting strong focus: the access network. Deploying an access network is still challenging nowadays. It requires preparation time, configuring equipments and services, manipulating multiple technologies, and coordinating with other teams. All these actions imply major delays. Viewed from other business lines in the enterprise, these delays are still quite obscure. Fortunately, software defined networking (SDN) and network automation are becoming really mature propositions, but the ecosystem needs to be well prepared for all their real potential to be met.
Enterprise transformation projects are launched for numerous reasons, including: 1) Required by new ways of collaborating 2) For increased agility 3) Sudden changes like mergers and acquisitions 4) Regulation compliance. Most of the time, when an organization needs to evolve, the network should be ahead of the transformation in order to promote and enable it. If network changes are taking too long to implement, the IT team is not being of optimal help to the company.
SDN can support this transformation challenge
There could be a temptation to simplify access networks in order to be able to support any usage, any user and any business, but it is not that simple. Networks need to support desktop and mobile access, specific devices like digital flipcharts and various IoT, for different populations like internal users, partners or visitors. Networks have to embed security and enforce corporate policies. They should also share limited bandwidth without impacting user experience. And importantly, they must allow access to critical applications, both in the datacenter and in the cloud.
The value proposition behind Software Defined Network (SDN) is to dissociate totally the hardware from the configuration and enable quick changes, to minimize operation team’s workload, and to increase security and performance while reducing costs. Being able to modify the configuration on many sites – within minutes or hours rather than days – in order to match a business requirement, is really appealing for network teams and a real asset for IT managers. What tends to be too complex for humans becomes sustainable with automation.
But SDN on its own is not enough
Switching to SDN on the access network is a really disruptive approach for traditional IT teams that are used to installing switches and routers, prepare configurations, add ports in VLAN and configure supervision. Some have already tried centralized network configuration with specific vendor tools that hide all the requested tasks behind graphical interfaces, but most still prefer typing commands on a text interface on each equipment. Unfortunately, this simply does not scale.
SDN implies that equipments are configured from a central controller, and no longer manually. We are now talking about thousands of devices being able to be managed by only a few people. Also networks can start to be deployed without having all the required information, thus opening the path to adaptive networks. This requires real transformation in the way access networks are architectured, designed, deployed and operated.
In addition, the network has become part of a complex ecosystem where the real paradigm is how users are accessing applications. This means network configuration requires tight integration with all the IP services like DHCP, DNS, NTP, and must keep the IP Address Management (IPAM) service fully updated, since IPAM should be considered as the golden record (the single version of the truth) of the IP world.
SDN combined with DDI – a winning team
EfficientIP with its SOLIDserver solution proposes a such integrated solution with Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA) intent-based network. Any access network deployed within Cisco DNA will get its IP configuration from the IPAM service. This full integration ensures deployed networks are well known in the IPAM central repository which is queried by all other components in order to guarantee coherence of the whole network and application access. No more hassle or delay caused by retrieving the appropriate IP subnet aligned with business requirements – everything is automatic, coherent, error-free and immediate.
IPAM, DNS and DHCP, aka DDI, helps SDN become fully integrated with the whole IT ecosystem – from orchestration of application deployment to ITSM process control – rather than being just another component, by providing end-to-end automation of application user access.