The new era of Software-Defined IT: Where we’re going next (Reality Check)
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), SD-WAN, cloud migration, and software as a service (SaaS) technologies. Additionally, as the digital evolution of business exponentially accelerates, we see profound impacts on innovation and the role of the CIO. What do we need to know about these changes? How should we respond? And where is SDIT taking us next? Let’s explore this new era.
What is Software-Defined IT?
A new IT architecture has emerged that encompasses SaaS,software-defined networking, hyper-scale cloud computing, and the consumerization of IT. Taken together, we call this architectural approach Software-Defined IT.
The concept of software-defined networking (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. 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, the 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 SDIT 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. Going forward, SD-WAN will become just a feature within regular networks, absorbed into the functionality just like routing and firewall features within MPLS. It will become 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, SD-WAN will be absorbed over the course of 24-36 months, rather than the previous five to seven 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 organizations must embrace this fact, or the world will pass them by. How do you make progress when you can spend every day looking at a new idea, deciding that’s the one you’re going to implement tomorrow — only to realize the next big idea is something else? 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, rapidly testing and 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. Leveraging 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 your company. Since IT budgets overall are flat, and 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. SDIT can help. It makes technology more accessible, instantly programmable, and linkable through powerful integration tools. Hybrid networking and softwaredefined 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 SDIT 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 your 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, I propose adding iPaaS to the SDIT toolkit of technologies.
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 highly-relevant to innovation and 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 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 are a reality that the majority of organizations will continue 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 SDIT offers. When coupled with iPaaS, this digital shift can be successfully accelerated to truly realize this sea change.
Tim Naramore has served as Masergy’s Chief Technology Officer since March 2008. Tim is responsible for the Information Technology, Network Engineering and SoftwareEngineering groups at Masergy. Prior to joining Masergy, Tim served as Chief Information Officer and Group Vice President of IT at McLeodUSA. He previously held Chief Information Officer positions at Broadwing Communications and Allegiance Telecom, Inc., was Director of Product Development at Netcom/ICG, and held a variety of technical positions at Frito-Lay, Inc., Boeing Computer Services and Texas Instruments. Tim holds a bachelor’s of science in information systems from Pittsburg State University.