Silver Peak Flames Red Hot

When Will The SDN Smoke Turn Into Flames?

Silver Peak Flames Red HotOver the last two years, Software Defined Networking (SDN) has been one of the most-discussed topics in all of IT.  There is an old adage that says that where there’s smoke there’s fire.  Does that adage apply here?  More to the point: Will all of the ongoing discussion of SDN lead to broad SDN deployment any time soon?  Conversely, has all of the discussion of SDN made IT organizations so “SDN weary” that their interest in deploying SDN has diminished?

I often survey IT professionals on their future plans, but I sometimes question the results.  My skepticism stems in large part from the fact that IT professionals are notably optimistic about how quickly a new technology will mature, as well as their organization’s desire and ability to adopt a new technology.

SDN is a good example of misplaced optimism.  Two years ago I wrote an Information Week report entitled “SDN: Deployment Plans and Tech Ecosystem“.  As part of the research for that report I surveyed several hundred IT professionals and asked them a number of questions about their interest in deploying SDN.  Thirty-five percent of the survey respondents indicated that they would implement SDN within two years.  Flash-forward to a few weeks ago when I moderated the Open Network Exchange (ONX), a two day SDN conference produced by Network World.  During my opening keynote I asked the audience to raise their hand if their organization had already made at least a modest implementation of SDN.  Fewer than ten attendees raised their hands.

The feedback from the ONX audience is consistent with the bulk of the current SDN market research that indicates that only four or five percent of IT organizations have already implemented SDN.  The obvious observation is that a lot fewer IT organizations have implemented SDN than was predicted by the respondents to the Information Week survey.

To gauge if IT organizations are still optimistic about SDN I asked the ONX audience if they thought that their organization would implement SDN sometime in the next three years.  Virtually all of the attendees indicated that within three years they would implement SDN in their data centers.  In addition, roughly half indicated that they would implement it in the WAN, and about a third indicated that they would implement it in their campus networks.

A big part of the issue with both the Information Week survey and the ONX survey was the time frame for the questions.  It is only natural to think and hope that the next two or three years will bring about major changes.  Bill Gates once commented on that phenomena when he said that “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

Recognizing that a long time frame leads to questionable results, I also asked the ONX audience how many of them expected to do a SDN Proof of Concept (POC) sometime in the next twelve months.  Between twenty and twenty five percent of the audience raised their hands.  Given the shorter time frame, I believe that while probably still optimistic, those responses are more accurate than the responses to the previous question.

The feedback from the ONX audience definitively answered one of the questions I posed at the beginning of this blog: the bulk of IT organizations aren’t SDN weary.  However, the answer to whether or not there would soon be a broad deployment of SDN is a little less clear.  Looking into my somewhat fuzzy crystal ball, I believe that ten to fifteen percent of IT organizations will actually conduct a SDN POC sometime in the next twelve months.  I also believe that a large percentage of those POCs will be successful and will result in the deployment of SDN.  Based on that, do I feel comfortable saying that there will be a broad deployment of SDN in the next year or two?  No, I don’t.

About the author
Jim Metzler
Jim has a broad background in the IT industry. This includes serving as a software engineer, an engineering manager for high-speed data services for a major network service provider, a product manager for network hardware, a network manager at two Fortune 500 companies, and the principal of a consulting organization. In addition, Jim has created software tools for designing customer networks for a major network service provider and directed and performed market research at a major industry analyst firm. Jim’s current interests include both cloud networking and application and service delivery. Jim has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Boston University.