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chris gabrielChris Gabriel explains why the SDN naysayers are wrong, and why they’d be mad to ignore a technology model that will change everything.

A colleague grabbed me last week with a knowing look on his face.  “Chris,” he said.  “You know you have been pushing this SDN thing with a bit of excitement? Well, last week I read an article saying that SDN was like 3D-TV.  All hype and fancy glasses. Here one day, gone the next.”

I wasn’t swayed.  My view remains unchanged – SDN, and software defined other things like Data Centre, will be the biggest transformation in how we design, deploy, operate and provision IT services in the next 20 years.  End of story.

In his central thesis – the idea that SDN is purely a technology to be assessed, embraced or dismissed by technologists – is where the idea that SDN is a fad falls down.  Software Defined isn’t a technology; it is much more than that.  It is a total IT transformation.

But SDx isn’t a transformation because it changes the way IT teams think about what they do – it is much more than that.  It is transformational because it changes the way that businesses, the all-powerful IT users and funders, can think about and get what they need from IT investments.

Ask yourself this.  Who wants to give money to a department that makes IT run with software?  Mmmm I thought we did that already.  But ask ‘who wants to give money to a department that makes IT run like a service?’, and you’re likely to get a very different answer.

This is why businesses are getting excited about the ‘cloud’.  The lure of OPEX vs. CAPEX is important, but businesses gets excited because of those three little words everybody in the world has caught onto – as a Service.

As a Service means quick to deploy, agile, flexible, and run by somebody who understands the user and their demands – and users are getting excited about dealing with services because it is much easier than dealing with technology.

Now, I don’t choose to fly British Airways because it has Rolls Royce engines on the wings of its planes, or because it uses a certain brand of windscreen wiper on the front of the 747.  Have you noticed BA’s tagline?  Fly to Serve. That sums up why I choose BA nine times out of 10 – what goes on behind the service is irrelevant to me.

Business users of IT are no different but, until now, we have lived in a technology defined world.  The IT department’s tag line may as well have ‘We hit 99.95% of SLAs’. Imagine that on the side of your aircraft as you walk up the stairs?

What we know business users really want now, and we see this in all of the surveys from CEO to Line of Business (LOB) executive, is agile, flexible, and responsive tools that drive their business.

What the CIO has to do is translate those needs into a response that looks and feels like they are running as fast if not faster than the business – because the technology they have built runs faster, smarter, quicker and cheaper already.  It runs like a service.

That is all that SDx does.  It defines IT by services not by technology.  It allows the business to align IT resources to business requirements more directly than ever before.  SDx is like wrapping the whole of IT (or more and more of it) in a big service wrapper and saying, we are here to serve.

It isn’t a coincidence that the organisations looking at SDN first is the service providers.  The clue is in the name. They run their environment like a service, and anything that can drive new service experiences or make existing ones more efficient is where they look first.

So dislike SDN if you will, but ignore it at your peril.  And, rather than look for holes in the technology, I would suggest looking for the ways it can turn IT from technology to service centric.

Chris Gabriel is Chief Technology Officer for Logicalis Group.