The future of IT infrastructure is software-defined. The demand for cloud-ready infrastructure – driven by the need for enhanced user and client experience – perfectly illustrates how organizations are accelerating their investment in technologies that deliver the speed and agility they need to satisfy their digital ambitions.

Organizations across industries are now delivering products and services from the cloud, and technology vendors are no exception. More specifically, traditional hardware vendors are decoupling intelligence from on-premises architecture and moving it to cloud platforms.

Software now controls both on-premises and cloud infrastructure, using AI and advanced analytics to ensure higher levels of agility and availability. It also includes centralized intelligence to enforce policies and governance.

To reap the benefits of full software-defined infrastructure (SDI), organizations need to switch from legacy-environment mode and adapt their operations to support their changing technology.

From hub-and-spoke to centralized services

According to recent NTT research for our 2022–23 Global Network Report, 94% of CIOs agree that cloud-based workloads demand greater availability, scale and performance – which in turn places their entire edge-to-cloud infrastructure in the spotlight.

This means organizations now need access to services and expertise in optimizing fast-evolving infrastructure hardware and software for cloud-based management platforms.

The hub-and-spoke model – with data centers and applications linked to branches, warehouses, logistics operations and more – is giving way to SDI, where hardware remains on-premises while the intelligence that drives change, delivers simplicity and enables scaling is based in the cloud.

The move to a centrally controlled digital model uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate service platforms, turning analytics into actionable insights that can identify vulnerabilities and security breaches across vendors, technologies and license types.

Strategize to meet your goals

At this level of integration, IT operations can use centralized management capabilities to streamline time-consuming tasks and simplify operations. And, with enhanced visibility and control come better cost management and less operational and financial risk.

IT operations exist to guarantee infrastructure availability, enable high-quality user and client experiences, and avoid business disruption. To meet these objectives, every asset must be fully supported throughout its lifecycle, regardless of the type of technology.

A well-considered services strategy should evolve seamlessly as your infrastructure becomes increasingly software-driven. It should unlock the full benefit of your investments in this area while maximizing the value of your assets and bringing consistency from the core to the edge of your infrastructure – again, regardless of the technology.

Are you on the path to full SDI?

High levels of availability and efficient hardware and software asset management rely on a combination of tried-and-trusted support capabilities, data-driven lifecycle insights, and the implementation of best practices.

To have a consistent user experience and continuity across evolving infrastructure, you need visibility and control from the core to the edge, matching your asset configurations against regulatory, industry and organizational standards. 

But your organization – and many others – may still be somewhere on the road to full SDI, managing your on-premises legacy hardware, routers and switches alongside your software-defined investments.

You’re likely to feel the pressure of trying to find the budget and skills you need to manage your infrastructure availability and mitigate risk during the process. Another problem is that you’ll face increasing levels of operational complexity: you may have some hardware with software inside, and other hardware driven externally by intelligent software.

The result? You’re still in legacy-environment mode and not yet reaping the benefits of full SDI.

4 key benefits of SDI

  1. More control: Many of your efficiency gains will come from cloud-based management of your software-defined technologies. Activating SDI controllers will unlock the capabilities of your technology. For example, software-defined networking with centralized access management delivers improved quality of service, risk mitigation, and secure and fast device and policy deployment. 
  2. Increased automation: Services platforms use automation and machine learning to mitigate risk and enable increased responsiveness.
  3. Better monitoring and analytics: Once traditional hardware is configured and up and running, it will give you some “intel” – but not much. You can monitor it remotely and see if it’s up or down, but if there’s an issue, you have to go out to fix or replace it.

    SDI greatly reduces the need to maintain your physical infrastructure in every location. You’ll still have some hardware, of course, but those assets become a commodity – “dormant” boxes, more or less. Centralized intelligence is now driving the performance of your infrastructure, enforcing policies and enabling advanced analytics for business continuity and threat prevention.

    Management platforms give you data-driven insights into the lifecycle status, performance and health of your infrastructure, and you benefit from increased management efficiencies with consistent visibility and control. NTT’s Services Portal, for example, aggregates multiple data sources into one source of insight to simplify the management of multivendor hardware and software assets. 

    Should issues arise, you benefit from predictive insights and security notifications that help you avoid the impact of incidents and security breaches. By quickly identifying and resolving incidents, you also mitigate operational and financial risk. 

  4. Standardization: Another way in which SDI can transform your operations is by delivering standardization across your estate. Say you have a large estate of routers and switches: when a new software version is released, you’ll need to upgrade them all.

    With SDI controllers, however, you can centrally enforce policies to ensure standardization. There’s no need to send a zip file to each location to be installed on individual machines. You also don’t need to worry about a bunch of routers in one location running on one version of the software while a group in another location is on an earlier or unknown version.

Yet, if you don’t adapt your operations to support the changing technology, these gains will remain unrealized.

Is it daunting to move to SDI?

Centralized control does, however, bring some of its own operational challenges. The manual methods you used previously to onboard devices, configure ports and set up and implement access-control lists will no longer be feasible.

At NTT, we help many of our clients through this stage of their digital transformation. After all, operational change can be risky, and caution is understandable. 

Among the concerns related to a move to SDI are:

  • Complexity: Will it be difficult to implement or configure SDI and troubleshoot problems?
  • Compatibility: Will there be compatibility issues across software components? And how do you test and validate before you deploy?
  • Integration: Are your development and operations teams well aligned? Do you have the skills and resources to deploy and manage SDI effectively?
  • Security: Will you face security vulnerabilities if, say, automated or centralized processes are not properly designed and secured?

Big changes don’t have to be risky

Your operations must ensure application availability and secure connectivity for all employees, no matter where they are or what devices they’re using.

Yet, many service incidents are caused by software and hardware changes, both planned and unplanned, and policy violations are often due to human error as staff try to keep up with a high volume of changes, new users, device additions and so on.

A move to SDI will help your organization eliminate these challenges and place you on the path to consistent and efficient infrastructure management – but the way you operate will change fundamentally.

Most organizations will not simply “rip and replace” existing technology, so a hybrid infrastructure may well be your reality for some time. You may also have a mix of managed and support services across your operations, depending on the technology and the outcomes you require.

To ensure your operations are ready for this complex environment – with tools and expertise to simplify operational management, accelerate application migration and manage operational change – it’s advisable to work with a trusted partner.

An experienced partner like NTT will deploy a highly automated services platform to help you streamline your IT operations and evolve your support model in line with your strategic goals.

Read more about NTT’s Software-defined Infrastructure Services.