​How Montana State University uses software defined networking to reduce deployment times

Montana State University is using software defined networking and software defined access to quickly deploy the virtual networks needed to support its faculty, students, and staff.

Jerry Sheehan, CIO at Montana State University, spoke with TechRepublic at Cisco Live 2018 about how the university uses software defined networking and software defined access to quickly deploy the virtual networks required by its research-driven faculty. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Jerry Sheehan: We made a transition about a year ago to software-defined access as a way to promote flexibility inside of your network to meet some of our user needs. Our initial focus was on a specific research network need that we had. We're a research intensive university. We've got lots of researchers who move very big data, and in the past before we've sort of had the digital alchemy that is software-defined networking, we had to create a separate physical network to allow them to do their work.

SEE: Quick glossary: Software-defined networking (Tech Pro Research)

What SDA allows us to do is quickly move into a flexibility that gets the same performance that we have but without the time from a people power standpoint that it takes to actually go and configure hardware. We're really talking about that paradigm shift where we move from thinking about the network as just a utility that provides just a common service to something that through a software architecture layer can actually meet our end user needs much more flexibly and quicker.

In a hardware-centric era of having to do things, you bring hardware in, you program that hardware, you take it out in the field. Sometimes you have to do physical installation to get everything ready to go. For us, a lot of the unique use cases that we have are folks who want to do something that's beyond sort of that standard utility. In those cases, we could could work with them to perhaps provide a virtual networking appliance in the past. When we did that, we were looking at something probably about a week's worth of work to do that. It would take us roughly a month to schedule that. We've got three networking staff on a campus for 20,000 individuals.

In a software-defined way, we can simply program the network to provide that virtualization. We can do that in probably about six to eight hours once we know the end user's specific requirements. Then we can get that deployed within a week, so greatly reducing the amount of time that we have to deliver a service without the people power that's necessary out in the field to make it occur.

As we look into the future, what we're really trying to do with software-defined access and the DNA Center is empower our users. We're looking for new use cases where we can work with them to meet those specific needs. Again, showing the network just isn't a utility and doing it efficiently.

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network cables and hub in data room
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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...