Software-defined network orchestration tools are a way to modernize the design, deployment and ongoing operational support of network infrastructures. Placing a layer of software abstraction among switches, routers, wireless access points and other components can provide a unified dashboard that delivers numerous benefits that can reduce both Capex and Opex.
However, if some potential drawbacks are not fully researched and vetted, they can render many of the perceived benefits fruitless. In this article, we look at the benefits and challenges of network modernization tools to help organizations determine if a network modernization project is worth their time and money.
What are the benefits of network modernization?
The benefits of network modernization provide organizations with a way to streamline the design, deployment and operations of enterprise networks. The benefits include the following:
- Simplified design and deployment. Architects can create a digital twin of the network through the orchestration dashboard to build a representation of the role each network hardware component plays. Once complete, the orchestration tool automates the process of configuring the network underlay and overlay using simplified, intent-based networking inputs.
- Intuitive GUI. The interface creates improved visibility through a single orchestration dashboard through the collection and organization of real-time and historical network health, performance and security telemetry.
- Network OS abstraction. Throughout the network buildout and ongoing operations phases of the lifecycle of the network, all initial configurations and ongoing adds and changes are made within the unified orchestration platform. This removes the need to upskill networking staff on the various open and proprietary network OS CLIs that are now abstracted.
- Improved interoperation with third-party tools. Modern network orchestration becomes the sole source of network health, performance and security data. As such, the integration of point-based services via open APIs enables streamlined third-party tool analysis.
- Network management with fewer and less-skilled NetOps staff. The use of process automation, AI and data analysis cuts the time and technical skill set required for network moves, adds and changes and assists with troubleshooting through intelligent analysis and insights.
Top challenges to network modernization
Depending on the network modernization platform of choice, organizations must still overcome a few challenges and barriers to maximize a modern enterprise network investment. These challenges may include the following:
- Integration of tools within existing networks. Brownfield sites may include multivendor services, protocols and designs that are not supported by modern orchestration tools.
- Proprietary services. Some network vendors cater to supporting only their hardware, network OS and nonstandard networking protocols.
- Multiple orchestration tools potentially required. Most orchestration tools these days focus on intelligent management of LANs, wireless LANs, data centers and WANs independently. No single tool exists yet that can manage mixed-vendor networks through a single management dashboard.
- Escalating costs if not careful. An orchestration platform is yet another licensed tool to add to the list of existing network operations services. While, in some cases, this added expense can be offset by using open network OSes and white box or brite box hardware, careful consideration must be made to ensure sound ROI.
Research is key to network modernization success
The tools and platforms available on the market that facilitate network modernization are only now starting to mature. Many of the software orchestration tools available on the market today are vastly different from one another. This is especially true as it relates to the hardware and software supported by the tools.
As such, organizations must conduct careful research to determine if the Capex, Opex and time savings expected can be achieved. Some vendors, for example, are focused on creating tools and features for their high-end networking gear that is targeted toward only the largest enterprise organizations. Other vendors offer more flexibility with the tools they support, including multivendor management capabilities and the use of open standards-based network protocols.
In the end, a particular orchestrator service may have certain caveats or drawbacks that must be overlooked to meet the needs of the business, whether it's for cost savings, improved service agility and reliability, or lightening the workload of networking staff. The challenge is to identify what's most important and find the tool that meets those needs.