SDN Needs a Pretty Big Leap to Cross the Chasm

Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • As SDN moves along the hype cycle it’s important to remember that the success of the technology is not a given. The market, and demand, could collapse.
  • Even if the SDN market did collapse, the benefits from the technology and product development will resonate for some time in the future. It’s not wasted effort.

If SDN as a technology is going to be successful—cross the chasm and go mainstream—then it must disappear from the minds of everyone except an ever shrinking networking talent pool. The SDN product cycle is following the same path of every other over-hyped product space but at any point it could implode like NAC and PKI. Success is not a given.

Networking vendors are currently focused on SDN product features while enterprise interest is (or will be) on components requiring integration with other existing products that connect to the network, interoperation with other products that form the network, and the ability to replace any component effortlessly. These two foci—features vs. components—are opposed to each other because vendors want to differentiate their products and show how their SDN product adds value while enterprises want it to work with everything else they own or will own. In other words, enterprises, specifically application owners and/or developers, really don’t want the network to be visible.

IT folks like metaphors, so here’s one. I don’t care what materials my sewer and potable water pipes are. I don’t care if one company is using a special form of PVC that does something wonderful. All I want to know, as a home owner, is that I can hook up my sinks, toilets, spigots, refrigerator and other stuff to the plumbing and it all works with no muss, no fuss. I don’t think about my plumbing unless something breaks or I need to add a new “service” in which case I need to run new pipes.

So here we stand. The visionaries in enterprises are running proof of concept trials and pushing vendors in various directions. The Open Networking User Group (ONUG) is one—perhaps the only—enterprise group that is both sharing strategies with each other and moving together to push vendors to integrate and interoperate. The rest of enterprises are staring across the chasm wondering what, if anything, SDN will do for them while also wondering if the promises or reduced CapEx and OpEx—along with other splendiferous benefits—will ever be realized.

I think one of two things will happen in 2015. SDN will cross the chasm and go mainstream because the pent-up demand for orchestrated, versatile networking will drive enterprises to product commitments. Or SDN won’t cross the chasm because enterprises are pretty savvy to the fact that the current crop of SDN products and technologies don’t offer the integration, interoperation, and replaceability they desire. Like an ocean wave, SDN will leave pools of benefits such as improved hypervisor integration, automation, and microsegmentation in the receding tide (I’m mixing metaphors, I know) which is what happened with other hyped technologies in the past.

I hope SDN will cross the chasm but I don’t think it will, at least not yet. Vendors and enterprises will, however, reap some pretty decent benefits from the advances made while developing the SDN technologies.

What do you think?

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