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DevOps or SDN? You'll need them both to work together

There's no point in choosing between DevOps and SDN. SDN is actually the perfect toolset for DevOps, with its unified vision and control over the entire network. Meanwhile, DevOps lends itself to the hybridized IT model necessary for SDN.

In the last few years, there has been a surge in chatter when it comes to choosing between DevOps or SDN.

DevOps fosters communication and collaboration between developers, operations teams and infrastructure professionals for unified and automated IT development, implementation and management. Meanwhile, SDN allows engineers to apply software control to network elements, centralizing management and provisioning of vast virtual and physical infrastructures.

Engineers have a proclivity for picking sides when it comes to IT concepts. That's especially the case with these two technologies now that SDN products are finally shipping, and the concept of unified networking, systems and development with DevOps tools is becoming a reality.

While having preferences is a part of human nature, it is an unnecessary and somewhat misguided endeavor in the case of DevOps or SDN. The two concepts are much better when used together. After all, SDN's centralized control provides a method of analyzing infrastructure, applications and operations through a single management system. It lends itself naturally to the goals of DevOps.

DevOps hybridizes IT architecture and engineers

DevOps as a process is not new. The concept originated with the inception of computing and was forged in the crucible of the Internet. None of what we know today would have been possible without collaboration between developers and operational staff. In fact, in many smaller environments, developers and operational staff are often one in the same.

Only recently has DevOps been defined and brought into the mainstream. This is largely because the Internet makes it easier to disseminate and consume information and ideas. The Internet fosters and promotes the concept of DevOps, and makes it simpler to put into action than ever before.

DevOps enables the re-hybridization of IT professionals. As teams communicate and share these resources, they work together more closely, sharing knowledge and merging skill sets. By collaborating, IT employees with distinct areas of expertise become better versed in each other's disciplines and therefore become better-rounded. It's as if speakers of different languages are learning each other's words.

SDN is the ultimate DevOps toolset

Enter SDN. SDN was born to topple years of crude manual configuration in complex network equipment and systems. Before SDN, not only were network devices configured manually, but this was done in a tunnel, without considering the applications and operations related to the infrastructure.

SDN changes that by enabling IT teams to configure and manage throngs of network devices and ports at once, applying granular policy for network segments based upon the needs of applications and users. The whole purpose is to implement policy and changes taking into consideration infrastructure, applications and operations at once -- very much like DevOps.

Why SDN and DevOps need each other

DevOps actually provides the environment in which SDN can flourish. Communication and cross-training between the development team and the network architects, engineers and operators, has birthed a process and product that is changing data, voice, systems and security. And in return, DevOps is being enabled by integrating the knowledge from these disciplines.

DevOps can leverage SDN to further hybridize the average IT employee. This process is critical as security, systems and networking all become more intertwined with development. One could successfully argue that SDN (and IT as a whole) could not fulfill its greatest potential without DevOps and SDN coming together under a hybridized model.

Pundits in the DevOps or SDN debate as to which side will "win out." Realistically though, SDN cannot reach its full potential without DevOps collaboration and processes, and, conversely, DevOps processes will become more refined as SDN environments come to life.

About the author:
Nick Buraglio is a network engineer for a nationwide research network and has more than 16 years of networking experience. Read more of Buraglio's opinions here.

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This was last published in August 2014

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