More Education Is Needed to Move the SDN Needle

multimeterAs an analyst, it seems like I’ve been talking about SDNs forever. It’s hard to have a conversation with anyone about anything in networking without “SDN” popping up. Every time I speak on the topic, the rooms are packed. Blogs on this topic are always well-read, and almost every network vendor has some kind of “SDN” message in their story. However, deployments of SDN are still lacking and the technology seems to have far more “mouth-share” than actual dollars spent today.

I recently completed a network purchase intention study with ZK Research media partner Tech Target, and we asked a number of SDN-related questions to understand where the market is today. The results certainly corroborate my feelings on the market right now.

One of the first questions we asked was a simple, “Are you currently, using, planning to use, or evaluating network virtualization or SDN?” This seems like a pretty basic question — are you doing ANYTHING with SDN? Only 20% of the respondent base answered yes to this question, so despite the hype, only one out of every five companies are even looking at it. Interestingly enough, though, activity on the website around the topic has been growing about 150% per quarter so there is certainly interest.

Another question posed was “How do you think SDN can help your company?” and respondents were asked to select the top three choices. Of all the choices we gave, there were three that stood out: reduce hardware costs (48%), simplify network architecture (46%), and enable better network management (40%). In many ways, these are very basic, generic responses, whereas choices around network programmability, automation, multi-tenancy, and network virtualization were well below the top three. I believe the respondents understand at a high level what SDNs can do but haven’t really fleshed out the broader benefits.

Looking at the barriers to adoption, the question “why won’t you invest in an SDN in the next 12-24 months?” was asked. The top response, from almost half the respondent base was “I don’t know enough about SDNs”. Next, at 35%, was the response of “I can run my network with traditional hardware”, and then at 33% was “I need to learn more about SDNs through other company’s case studies”. These answers spoke loud and clear that network professionals today simply do not know enough about how a software-defined network differs from a traditional network, and until that changes, adoption will be slow.

For the vendor that can help with this knowledge gap, the rewards are certainly there. We asked a question regarding whether a company would consider changing vendors when deploying an SDN and 35% responded favorably. While this number may seem low, understand that when we ask this question today about traditional network infrastructure, only 8% say they would consider changing their network vendor. So for SDN vendors, buyers are 4x more likely to move away from their incumbent for an SDN than for a traditional network. That’s more opportunity for share shift than we’ve seen in networking in probably a decade.

I think we’ve had enough of the technical or hype-driven content that opines about the theoretical benefits that SDN can deliver. Network professionals want more tactical information on how to use an SDN today and what other companies are doing with it to improve their business — it’s time for the vendor community to start providing these.  So let’s stop the bashing of one another and focus more on helping customers solve their business problems. This will go a long way in creating a “rising tide” where all the vendors benefit.