By Colin Williams, Chief Technologist – Networking, Security & Unified Communications at Computacenter
Agile software development is the next big thing – and rightly so for many organisations. Overall, agile is a set of principles that allows the development process to adapt, evolve and change, promoting continuous improvement and early deliveries. If speed of development (application), accelerated time to market and potentially reduced development costs are the primary aims of the enterprise, agile delivers immense value.
But the euphoria seems to drive a mushroom cloud of activity involving selected internal operational and technology areas, for example servers and storage. It’s clear agile discussions ignite wholesale changes in those common areas, but has been slow to affect others – most notably networking and security – and there lies a problem. At present, application development teams, IT operations functions and, most importantly, the line of business teams are proactively gravitating towards each other as the agile train pulls into the station. The cultural, emotional and operational shift required to make agile a reality is now very real.
I challenge the effectiveness of the current agile momentum due to a major elephant remaining in the room – network readiness. At present, many organisations have agile transformation as a fundamental element of their corporate manifesto but continue with a network that may be highly reliable and functional, but one not lubricating or accelerating the agile journey. Does this instantly fast-forward to a software defined networking (SDN) discussion? Software defined networking is not networking without hardware, but it is networking optimised by the use of software to increase programmability (and therefore personalisation) and automation (consistency and efficiency).
The benefit software defined ideals deliver to networking outcomes are many fold but most notably security benefits, speed and consistency of change which in turn makes the network agile. Surely this must signpost a notable change of priority, to shift network transformation further up the business technology priority list to enable tangible business value – if your network is not agile, is the business truly delivering agile operational or workload outcomes?
By switching to SDN, networks can achieve this agility by becoming automated to support and keep up with different workloads, aiding businesses in turning their operations into a virtual network infrastructure, allowing for more flexible IT capabilities. However, network teams now need to be able to coordinate infrastructure elements, including firewalls, load balancers and switches in order to deliver the right set of services to the user. For some, it may be a tough task to uproot legacy systems and move into SDN architecture, however there are plenty of IT firms that are able to provide managed and consultation services to aid the transition.
All in all, agile development is here to stay and with businesses now operating at warp speed, agile is helping to drive organisations into the brave new ever changing world. But a network however stable, riddled with complexity and human latency must now change to be the optimum transport of digital change. It’s time to ask your organisation if the network is really making the business agile – if not, now is the time for change.