The history of IT is full of companies that didn’t see it coming. “It” could be Microsoft not seeing the Internet or Research In Motion not seeing the true potential of the mobility it did so much to pioneer. This inability could be the result of hubris or the natural inclination to be so satisfied with the present that there is denial about inevitability of change. Or, perhaps, it simply is far more difficult to predict the future than it seems in hindsight. The folks who get it right – the Steve Jobs of the world – are very rare exceptions.
The networking industry is facing one of those moments that will permanently change things. The idea behind software-defined networks (SDNs), like most big ideas, is fairly simple: It is more efficient to command and control functions that are separated from the physical equipment. It enables networks to be managed across vendor boundaries and without physically altering each device. Great efficiencies and other benefits are reaped in such a landscape.
It’s a potent concept. To their credit, networking companies indeed do seem to get the idea that their futures will be influenced by how SDNs evolve and whether or not they make the right bets now.
Nobody has more skin in the game than Cisco. Lightreading reported this week that the company is readying application programming interfaces (APIs) under the name onePK. The APIs are aimed at both SDNs and more generally unify the company’s enterprise and data center networks. The writer doesn’t offer much more than that, presumably because details won’t be available for a few weeks, according to the story.
Juniper Networks also is mapping its SDN strategy. The company used its Global Partner Conference, which was held this week, to introduce its plans. The press release offers a fair amount of detail on the approach, which is based on six steps. The company also announced the Juniper Software Advantage, a licensing program that enables transition of licenses between Juniper and x86-based servers. It is not surprising that this was discussed in the same press release as the SDN strategy. The two are deeply related.
Last week, Kurt Marko at Network Computing provided a detailed analysis of where SDNs are. It gets complex quickly and requires a good level of knowledge to understand the details. One point does stand out, however: At the beginning of the piece, Marko suggests that 2013 is the year when the SDN concept “moves from being a debate topic to a serious technology alternative for network upgrades and redesigns.” However, the rest of the story strongly suggests that a lot of conceptual work still is being done. At least to an outsider, it seems that there is a good distance between that work and the commercialization Marko suggests is near.
The bottom line is that SDNs are vitally important. The vendors that don’t try to influence the future about which Marko writes – or at least are responsive to the way in which things are going – are playing with fire. IT departments, too, must follow this evolution very closely.