SDN: it’s not all smoke and mirrors

As an increasing number of enterprise users look for solutions that leverage hardware in a vendor-agnostic fashion and look for integrations and interoperability with applications and infrastructure residing in the cloud, they will have no choice but to embrace SDN.

Guest author

February 1, 2016

4 Min Read
SDN: it’s not all smoke and mirrors periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Derek Granath, Vice President of Product Management, Extreme Networks attempts to debunk a few popular misconceptions about SDN.

Emerging technology is no stranger to the networking industry. Every few months, solutions hit the market that promise to address a specific need or requirement – from faster speeds to increased flexibility and agility to better visibility. However, more often than not, emerging technologies are misunderstood and the benefits of that technology are clouded (pun intended) with confusion.

Such has been the case with software-defined networking (SDN). While some have suggested there is a sense of “SDN fatigue” in the market from enterprise users, the question really is no longer about if enterprise IT will adopt SDN but when. In fact, IDC predicted that this market is set to grow to more than $8 billion by 2018, globally.

As an increasing number of enterprise users look for solutions that leverage hardware in a vendor-agnostic fashion and look for integrations and interoperability with applications and infrastructure residing in the cloud, they will have no choice but to embrace SDN. Just as businesses expect IT to deliver agility, enterprise IT also needs to transition into a software defined delivery model. Because of this, SDN has become a critical building block.

However, this does not mean it will be an easy road. In fact, it is anticipated to be a long journey, with some suggesting we’re in the “early innings of a long game.” The good news? Deploying and leveraging the actual technology will not be the difficult part of this transformation. The difficult part will be better educating the industry. The first step in doing so is debunking popular misconceptions about SDN. Here’s a look at a few:

  • SDN isn’t for the enterprise – Whereas the hyperscale data center operators and many telecom service providers are well on their way with SDN – just look at Google and AT&T – enterprises are not as clear of the benefits and have been much slower to adopt the technology. Although this may be true, it’s predicted that more and more enterprises are moving forward to reap the benefits of SDN today.

  • SDN is still only for early adopters – While the hype and noise around SDN has dropped significantly, there continues to be a misconception that the current environment is only appropriate for early adopters. However, SDN is a collection of different technologies that are in different stages of maturity. There is no general rule that states that SDN is only for early adopters. In the next few months SDN is forecasted to be implemented across industries to address all business requirements, and is in fact ready for prime time in the enterprise.

  • Lack of enterprise oriented applications – While early SDN applications addressed orchestration in large hyperscale data centers and service provisioning for carriers, SDN now can deliver improved use experiences in the enterprise. For example, based on a specific application, such as a Unified Communications solution, SDN can “program” QoS policies into the network in a fully automated and flexible manner. Enterprise data centers have similar requirements in terms of network virtualisation and are able to deliver private cloud solutions in larger data centers.

  • Lack of mature technology and standards – SDN standards continue to evolve rapidly, and most deployments today still rely on vendor-specific extensions to deliver working solutions. As more companies begin to fully transition to a virtualised environment, organisations will begin to realise the full benefit of SDN.

The second hurdle we must overcome is a lack of understanding about the key benefits of SDN. While it emerged as a magic solution, many enterprise users are not actually clear why. Using analytics and SDN in combination is just one future possibility which could make it easier for businesses to deploy servers and support users in a more cost-effective way. It can also provide an overall improved user experience. Here’s a high-level look at additional benefits:

  • Improved application performance – Fine-grained, pervasive and actionable information on network status and usage that enables operators to make fast and intelligent business decisions.

  • Improved user experience – Simplified and consistent user experience, allowing for faster workload provisioning with network automation and orchestration.

  • Increasingly granular security – Network, devices and data are fully visible and secure.

  • Lower operational costs – Improved network management efficiency.

At some point in the not so distant future, networks will be defined by software. With the far-reaching, transformative benefits provided by SDN, it is only a matter of time before everything is defined by software. The sooner organisations empower themselves by implementing the SDN architecture needed to solve today’s complex business and IT challenges, the sooner they can secure their future.


Derek-Granath-150x150.jpgDerek has over 20 years of technology product management, marketing, and business development experience with a focus on high-performance enterprise and carrier networking systems.  He is senior director of product management at Extreme Networks where he leads the team responsible for product strategy and the roadmap for Extreme’s data center and enterprise networking platforms and solutions. Derek holds a BSEE from Stanford University and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

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