Thumbs Up & Down

SDN: Future Winner or Current Loser?

Thumbs Up & DownIn a recent blog post, Jim Metzler pondered the fact that only a handful of the biggest network users, like Google and Yahoo!, seem to be getting most of the attention relative to SDN and network virtualization, what he called the SDN 1% rule. For the other 99% of the Fortune 500, SDN remains something that might be beneficial sometime, somewhere. And if SDN isn’t close to being ready for the F500, what about the Global 2000 or every other business using the Internet?

According to the recent 2013 SDN and NFV Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey, virtually all major operators are either evaluating SDNs now or plan to do so within the next three years.  SDN and NFV evaluation and deployments are being driven by carriers’ desire for service agility, resulting in quicker time to revenue and operational efficiency. “For the most part, carriers are starting small with their SDN and NFV deployments, focusing on only parts of their network, what we call ‘contained domains,’ to ensure they can get the technology to work as intended,” explains Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics Research. “But momentum for more widespread use of SDN and NFV is strong, as evidenced by the vast majority of operators participating in our study who plan to deploy the technologies in key parts of their networks, from the core to aggregation to customer access,” Howard adds. “Even so, we believe it’ll be many years before we see bigger parts or a whole network controlled by SDNs.”

You’d never know that SDN was more a dream than a reality based on all the interest it’s been generating. A Silver Peak survey found that 40% of IT managers intend to implement some form of SDN in less than two years. Enterprise Strategy Group research data reveals that networking professionals remain burdened by manual processes (40%), difficulties associated with provisioning and configuration management (36%), integration between network ops and other IT domains (34%), and a lack of maintenance windows that lead to new implementation stagnation (29%).

On the other hand, while 89% of organizations are at least discussing SDN, almost half, 49%, couldn’t correctly define what it is. At the recent GigaOM Structure conference SDN took a beating, with the conclusion that the jury really is still out on it. SDN was deemed not relevant for a variety of use cases, while the technology was also roundly declared a loser and something that hasn’t really changed in the years since it has hit the network scene.

There’s been a lot of interest from the vendor community, but even that is somewhat suspect, according to ESG Senior Analyst John Mazur. Venture capital flowed like milk and honey to eager SDN start-ups, but the sleeping networking giants launched OpenDaylight in April. With their cash cow herds at risk to the new start-up wolves, should they armor their cash-cows, or might a scarecrow do?

“That certainly sounds like a start-up/VC scarecrow to me, and portends some lipstick for the switch and router market cash cows,” said Mazur. However, upon further investigation, he concluded that ODL is more than a scarecrow (“but my ODL update briefings do keep getting rescheduled”).

The moral of Mazur’s SDN/NFV story is: “the customer is always right, and their suppliers just can’t nod yes forever if they hope to keep them as customers.”

However, the question still remains: which customers? And when will nods turn to something else? For SDN, it looks like the answers are ‘The SDN 1%’, and ‘later‘. Just how much later remains to be seen.