Software Defined Networks: Is the Technology Catching Up with the Hype?

Mike Spanbauer
Mike Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • SDN may have begun academically focused on enterprise LAN needs, but carrier interest is intense and driving innovation as well.
  • More SDN solutions are materializing out of powerpoints and into reality today, with some creative and innovative answers to challenging problems in the past – but when will adoption begin to accelerate?

SDN may be the most exciting networking technology since the advent of Internet Protocol (IP).  At its most fundamental, the concept of SDN provides a construct by which we can discuss the implementation of services within the fabric of the network itself, whether by decentralized routing & flow tables or the abstraction of more advanced network services that are embedded within the network intelligence itself.  There are many approaches, many proposals and of course many vendors vying for a piece of the pie that is in the oven.  It is likely that 2013 is when early momentum will begin. Cisco’s C-Scape in 2012 promised several elements of its One-PK solution would materialize in H1 2013, Juniper has come out with its own rather encompassing SDN vision, and HP has had enough time in the market to get traction (given the long sales cycles on a solution this complex), to name a few.  There are some truly great technology suppliers working in concert (mostly) to move the proverbial ball forward.  However, the question I get asked the most often remains “Is the need real?”, i.e., whether the market currently has a particular need that cannot be addressed or solved another way to which I have replied previously “Not yet, but soon.”

However, the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) movement established late last year by a number of Tier 1 carrier operators may hold immense promise – in particular regarding the abstraction of network services, previously requiring highly customized, robust (and expensive) appliance hardware being made highly portable and capably run on commodity hardware potentially would be a breakthrough.  This solution provides for both CapEx savings on the appliances (which are huge), but also for the operational time to deploy, which in the carrier world is both real revenue and significant OpEx.  In the enterprise, virtualization and the edge to edge application control and orchestration may soon provide the same crystallized use case. This particular angle is why VMware sought out and paid the premium it did for Nicera.  Yet many of these vendors have released guidelines or initial proposals and we’re still waiting for that “killer app” to emerge, which in turn will accelerate the SDN movement from early adoption into mainstream technology.  Is 2013 that year?  Attend February’s SDN Webinar to find out more!

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