Mixed Signals

SDN: Necessity, Infatuation, Dated, Or Will Never Happen?

Mixed SignalsSanta Clara in early February will be home to the inaugural OpenDaylight Summit, the conference intended to advance the community-led and industry-supported open source Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) platform. “Getting together to learn from each other and meet face-to-face is an important component of accelerating adoption of SDN and NFV,” said Inder Gopal, chairman, OpenDaylight board of directors.

“Collaboration is critical to advancing SDN and NFV in networking. This conference is an unprecedented opportunity for developers and leaders within the SDN ecosystem to come together for a common purpose — the advancement of SDN and NFV,” said Erik Ekudden, vice president and head of technology strategies for Ericsson.

While vendors (i.e. Ericsson and IBM) and associations (i.e. OpenDaylight and ONF) will be well-represented, it remains to be seen what the end-user involvement will be. What isn’t in doubt are the mixed signals circulating about the current and projected status of SDN.

Current Analysis just released a report detailing the key issues in the SDN market, along with insight on future opportunities and landscape transformations. “Enterprises are primed for SDN in the campus LAN,” commented Mike Fratto, Principal Analyst at Current Analysis. “They already make extensive use of automation in operations, and campus SDN can increase the breadth of automation while ensuring the same reliability that enterprise demands.”

Network Computing just asked if it’s time we declare SDN a relic of the past and move to SDN 2.0, stating that the term has been reduced to a buzzword that gets attached to anything a vendor is trying to sell. There will be three requirements to qualify for the the 2.0 handle: automation; programability; and open.

While not yet prepared to bury SDN 1.0, InformationWeek cautions to not let SDN infatuation go to your head. With the networking industry all a-flutter and vendors hastily breeding new software-defined networking platforms and controllers, it warns that smart enterprises should show a healthy fear of commitment.

SDN is not ready for production in the typical enterprise network, so enterprises may not want to place their bets just yet on any of the available SDN choices. “When the big technology companies, such as AT&T, Amazon, and Google, make their choices, it will bring a level of discipline to the market.”

Recent data found that there is a fair amount of caution when it comes to SDN, with 14% of participating US enterprises having already deployed SDN, 15% planning on deploying it in the next 12 months, and another 33% considering deployment. Increased data center virtualization is also expected to drive enterprises to develop SDN pilot projects this year, and Infonetics reported that respondents currently have 2% of their ports set aside for SDN, but that will grow to 8% by 2015.

Or you could take a more pessimistic view, SDN will never happen according to Steve Mullaney, SVP and GM of VMware’s Networking & Security Business Unit in a recent post on Network World. “I guess I’m not really sure what SDN means because it means so many things to so many people. I think of it in terms of the small “s,” small “d,” small “n” meaning. Do you believe the future of the data center will be more defined by software than hardware? Yes, I do. Therefore I am an sdn, small letters, advocate. It’s a philosophy to me. It’s not a thing.”

He added that the way to get to the promised land of greater agility and to be more like Amazon, Google and Facebook is through what VMware calls a software-defined data center. “We’ve seen the huge transformational characteristics of server virtualization, but we need to virtualize all the infrastructure, and that means the network as well. The network is the key enabler for that SDDC vision.”

SDN in small letters has nothing to do with controlling physical switches and using OpenFlow to control those switches. “The key is not to have to touch the physical infrastructure. Leave it alone and do what you do as an augmentation. Make that physical infrastructure better without touching it.”

The bottom line is that networking as currently implemented is not getting the job done and things will have to change. While the arguments surrounding SDN may appear contentious, the need for SDN or its doppelganger is clear, and will happen sooner rather than later.

Image credit: William Warby (flickr)

About the author
Steve Wexler
Steve is a proficient IT journalist, editor, publisher, and marketing communications professional. For the past two-plus decades, he has worked for the world’s leading high-technology publishers. Currently a contributor to Network Computing, Steve has served as editor and reporter for the Canadian affiliates of IDG and CMP, as well as Ziff Davis and UBM in the U.S. His strong knowledge of computers and networking technology complement his understanding of what’s important to the builders, sellers and buyers of IT products and services.