It’s Time for SDN Marketers to Step on the Gas

RacecarThere’s no networking topic I get more end-user inquiry on than software-defined networks (SDN).  The types of questions I get are all over the map, making it difficult to get a good feel for what purchase intentions are.  To get a better handle on what we might see in the way of SDNs investments over the next few years, ZK Research and Tech Target Networking media ran an SDN priorities study.  Here is a quick take of the results.

If you look at the infographic, it clearly shows that ’tis the season for SDN marketers to step on the gas.  The survey revealed that 90% of companies today are researching, testing or investing in SDNs, with about a third of the respondents listing SDNs are their top networking project.  Understanding that surveys like this tend to be a little pollyanna-ish, we’re not likely to see one out of every three companies deploy an SDN, but the results are clear: organizations are interested in SDNs and are looking for information.

As an analyst covering this market, I’ve taken countless briefings from many different types of networking vendors on the topic of SDNs, and every vendor seems to have a different go-to market strategy on what an SDN is.  The confusion around SDN obviously hurts adoption, as customers aren’t sure where to focus energies.  This uncertainty is the primary reason behind the top barrier to adoption — respondents simply don’t know enough about SDNs.  Does it mean programmability?  Does it mean network virtualization?  Is it really analogous to server virtualization?  Does it really reduce hardware and/or operational costs?  Can you really use commodity hardware?  Well the answer to all of these is yes, but under the right conditions.

The SDN needs of a Google or Baidu are significantly different than that of a university, which is different than that of a financial services firm.  Respondents to the survey want case studies to help learn about SDNs.  Every vendor must have at least a few good examples of how customers are using their SDN solution, so they should document them and promote them.  When I bring this up I get the typical, “our customers view us as secret and don’t want us to share what they’re doing”.  To that I say “blah, blah” — I’ve heard it before.  Do the work and figure out a way, or at least publish it in some kind of generic format.  If you don’t, one of your competitors will and no matter how good the technology is, you’ll be on the outside looking in.  The survey was clear — buyers want case studies so it’s up to the vendor community to provide them.

SDNs are hot today and it’s likely to stay that way over the next year or two.  I believe the vendors that can most clearly articulate their value and show customers how to migrate to an SDN with minimal risk will be the ultimate winners and losers.  Technology will obviously play a role but technology alone isn’t going to determine SDN success.  SDN vendors need to take this opportunity to step on the marketing gas and separate themselves from the pack.

Image credit:  StuSeeger (flickr) – CC-BY-2.0