Is it SDN? The software defined data center (SDDC)? Big Data? Up to now, all of the seminars, workshops and tutorials that I have been involved with this year have focused on SDN and been attended primarily by people with titles such as network engineer or network architect. Based on those experiences, it’s easy to conclude that SDN is a top-of-mind issue for most, if not all IT executives. As it turns out, that isn’t exactly the case.
I recently moderated a two-hour discussion that was attended by about a dozen IT professionals whose titles ranged from Director to C-Level. The attendees came from a broad range of organizations including universities, F500 companies, and a government organization that is usually referred to with a TLA (three letter acronym). The goal of the event was to discuss how changes in business, culture and technology are impacting the role of networking in general and the role of the network organization in particular.
When I kicked off the discussion, I told the attendees that two of the changes that we would be discussing were BYOD and Cloud Computing. When we went around the room doing introductions, I asked each of the attendees to identify the factors that they thought would cause them the most concern over the next two years. Not a single attendee mentioned anything to do with technology or new ways of delivering technologies.
When I probed the attendees why topics such as SDN weren’t mentioned as causes for concern, their response was that SDN wasn’t new, that networks have always been built using software. I found myself thinking that there were two ways to interpret this response — one interpretation was that over their entire careers they had dealt with the evolution of technology and so felt comfortable that their organization would deal with the latest evolutions of technology; the other, less charitable interpretation was that they were being a bit naïve and perhaps guessing SDN’s underlying concepts just from the name. For while I certainly agree that networks have always been built using software, the concept of providing open programmatic interfaces into networking gear is notably less common and potentially provides some significant value.
So what was the key issue or two that was on the mind of all of these IT execs? There wasn’t one. To put that into perspective, when I work with IT vendors they tend to think alike and have similar challenges that they are trying to address. That isn’t the case when I work with IT organizations. In general their concerns are more highly varied and the event attendees reflected that reality.
As an example of the varied types of issues on the minds of these execs, a couple of the attendees expressed concern that they would be able to meet the expectations of their company’s newest employees — the ones who have grown up using technology. Part of their concern was technology centric, i.e. would they be able to provide service to these employees that was fast enough to meet their ever-growing expectations? There was, however, another part of their concern. Would the IT organization be able to coax the business managers to change their traditional processes in order to leverage all of the technologies that are now readily available and used by younger employees?
In another example, the IT challenges associated with integrating companies that have been merged or acquired were mentioned by two of the attendees. Security was also mentioned by a couple of the attendees, and their concern was more than just the security of the IT infrastructure — they had at least as many concerns about the security issues associated with the user, whether that was students posting inappropriate information or disgruntled employees hacking the company.
So what does this mean for the future adoption of new approaches to technology such as SDN or SDDC? One thing it clearly means is that I wouldn’t want to try to sell the event attendees on either of those approaches without being able to carefully explain how those approaches help to solve the challenges facing the attendees and that for the most part, those challenges have little to do with technology.