SDN Q&A with Tata's Toh

07 April 2021

Song Toh

Song Toh

Networking+ caught up with Song Toh, vice president, global network services, Tata Communications, to talk software-defined networking (SDN)

1. What’s the main reason behind the growth of SDN?

While network transformation is an integral part of an enterprise’s digital transformation journey, the recent catalyst for the growth of Software Defined Network (SDN) is the pandemic and maturity of the technology. Businesses were impacted significantly when the countries underwent lockdown for people's safety. Employees started working remotely but most of the enterprises’ network infrastructure was not ready for it.

In the past, the legacy network architecture could cope when a limited number of people (typically fewer than 30% for knowledge workers), who decided to work from home at a certain time, were trying to connect to the VPN. Now the case is completely different. With the majority of the workforce working from home, it doesn’t make sense for everyone to connect to their office and then to the cloud.

I believe the deployment of agile SD-WAN or zero-trust clients on devices for users to work from home will be one of the next big steps for global network infrastructure.

As countries are looking to recover from the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic, organisations are interested in transforming their network and digital infrastructure to ensure speedy recovery and growth of their businesses. They have realised that they need to be ready for unforeseen situations like this pandemic. A more resilient, secure, and agile network is the only way to work around such uncertainties.

2. How does SDN make a network manager’s life easier from a technical point of view?

SDN allows IT managers to have a centralised view of their company’s entire network, helping them with centralised and more controlled management and provisioning of network configurations.

As an enterprise network grows beyond branch to data centre connectivity, with increased SaaS, cloud, and Internet adoption, the architecture complexity has made it difficult for network managers to continue with legacy management practices. SD-WAN and SDN help keep things simple, stable, and secure, while at the same time, offer an open and accessible architecture, bring agility and value to the business, and future proof it.

As we look forward, I expect network managers to take advantage of the full capability of SDN/NFV so business users and developers can have an agile and programmable infrastructure to run a business on. Only then can enterprises realise the value of digitising their business and infrastructure.

3. Does an enterprise need to spend a substantial amount of money on new equipment if it wants to use SDN?

Deployment of SDN costs much lesser than what enterprises spend on managing their legacy infrastructure. It also allows for faster deployment of applications and reduces the overall cost of deployment.

Enterprises usually have an equipment refresh cycle of 3-5 years, though some may run a little longer. At the time of this refresh, it often makes sense to update the network design and replace the equipment at the same time. This is when businesses can adopt a software-defined network without much additional cost. While replacing the equipment is a capital expenditure, it is required to run with up-to-date technology. So, revamping network design along with the equipment ensures consistency as well as cost-effectiveness.

4. Why should an enterprise deploy SDN?

The current situation is a perfect reason for the deployment of SDN. The scalability required to deal with the effects of the ongoing pandemic is often limited by the hardware-centric management model. As a result, the use of software-driven, cloud-native network-as-as-service, and VNF-based multi-service cloud edge is the need of the hour. For example, we rolled out 200+ remote workers in less than six hours for a customer, via our software-centric remote access.

In addition, enterprises need to see the outcome regardless of the choice of technology. They need to realise the faster deployment of network functions, routing policies, which could not be achieved without SD-WAN.

The promise of automation and virtualisation with SDN is so vast that soon an enterprise's network will be the ladder to the success of their digital transformation strategy. For all their blueprints and plans for successful implementation, if businesses don’t put together a network that is ready to enable them, the vision to operate as a digital business would be hard to realise.