Shifting consumer behaviors triggered by market forces such as the bustling online and mobile economies, accelerated time-to-market pressures, intense global competition and complex regulatory environments continue to create disruption across the manufacturing industry
In response to these changing dynamics, manufacturers are undergoing a digital transformation that is leading to more efficient business processes and adoption of new technologies. One such transformational technology is software defined networking (SDN) and it is rapidly reinventing network technology as we know it.
SDN simplifies IT network configuration and management. It replaces traditional communications networks, built on vendor-specific hardware and software, with vendor-agnostic equipment and software — an architecture which enables greater flexibility and automation. With traditional network architecture, a single change can adversely impact the entire platform. This is not the case in an SDN environment.
How does this translate to a manufacturing environment where plant operations and supply chain management are heavily dependent on a strong, centralized network infrastructure and efficient application deployment processes? Consider these six drivers that are motivating manufacturers to adopt SDN:
- Increased operational flexibility – Many business processes end up being governed by whether or not applications — or access to applications — can support given initiatives. Manufacturers must be able to build such applications, make them agile, deploy them globally and make them securely available to end users which an SDN environment can deliver. SDN also allows manufacturers to accelerate application deployment which dramatically reduces an organization’s IT costs through workflow automation.
- Mitigating cybersecurity threats – At every level of the Industrial Internet — machine, connectivity, data storage, analytics, applications and networking — cybersecurity is a top priority. Manufacturers are facing increasing regulatory compliance requirements due to security risks such as espionage, perennially identified by Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report as a top industry threat. Operational technology data is highly sensitive and heavily regulated as it carries a high degree of intellectual property value. With so much riding on this data, a secure environment is critical and SDN architecture can prioritize regulatory compliance from data governance activity and routing.
- Connecting employees and operations – SDN provides a contemporary platform for hosting the global communications and collaboration environments that connect teams across time zones in real-time and via video conferences and mobile devices. Mobilizing operations in plant environments — which is also driving more efficient management of inventories, production schedules, supply chain operations and customer engagement processes — is fueling a need for on-demand bandwidth, reliable coverage, and robust hosting platforms which an SDN-architected network can enable.
- Bridging the generational/talent gap – Raised in a social, immediate and collaborative environment, Millennials will continue to leverage mobility in all areas of their lives and the workplace will be no exception. Connecting and mobilizing factory operations represents the workplace of the future which is significant for attracting a generation that has grown up in the mobile and digital era.
- Speeding innovation – A hallmark of SDN, outsourcing network management to a trusted and experienced provider allows a manufacturer to focus on its core business and improving the customer experience. The resulting ecosystem will serve as the catalyst for a wave of industrial productivity and insightful predictive analytics.
- Reducing CapEx expenses – The software-based architecture of SDN mitigates the pressure on capital budgets and operating costs as manufacturers no longer pay for routers, switches and other hardware along with the costly staff resources needed to manage physical networks.
Manufacturers are under pressure to be agile and low-cost providers, and no one has an unlimited budget. These pressures are driving both infrastructure and application efficiency in addition to increased security which new technologies such as SDN are helping to solve.
Jim Kilmer leads sales for Verizon Enterprise Solution’s Manufacturing and Automotive vertical practice.