Software-Defined Networks Face Obstacles to Adoption

Carl Weinschenk
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Embracing the Software-Defined Future: Looking Ahead at 2015

Software-defined networks (SDNs) represent a significant change in networking. Separating the “live” content— the packets containing users’ emails, videos, voice and other data—from the bits and bytes that control where that data goes and how it gets there may be too big of a change for enterprise IT to fully embrace right now.

Many analysts have identified significant obstacles that will make the adoption of SDN a struggle. Jim Duffy at Network World cites one pitfall against SDNs as cultural inertia, which is the human and business tendency to keep things as they are despite the potential for new and presumably better approaches. Duffy also points to the immaturity of SDNs and the difficulty of melding them with legacy technology as at least temporary challenges.

SDNs are far different from legacy network, but the equipment and networking approach currently in use will not magically disappear. SDNs, for that reason, will need to be implemented over a long period of time. This means that hybrid networks will likely be the norm for decades. The progress will be especially slow in the enterprise, according to Network Computing’s Marcia Savage:

Web-scale companies like Facebook and Google talk a lot about how they're revolutionizing their data centers by deploying software-defined networking, but when it comes to enterprise SDN deployments, the stories are few. That's for good reason: Enterprises grapple with resource limitations, legacy applications, and ingrained cultures where it's not so easy to make radical changes.

Savage quotes Vesko Pehlivanov, the vice president of technology services and strategy at Credit Suisse. He said that the firm doesn’t have the same level of engineering resources as big Internet companies but, at the same time, it must figure out how to create an SDN environment while maintaining existing systems.

Another observer, Andriy Shapochka, SoftServe’s principal software architect, offered his own list of SDN challenges to No Jitter. The keys to him are not particularly surprising: security, scalability, interoperability and performance.

To be sure, SDNs will bring radical change to networking: It will be totally transformative. Though the end goal of the new and old approaches – enabling communications and bidirectional trafficking of content – is the same, just about everything else—including how networks are designed, tested, rolled out, administered and more—will change. Bringing that change to the enterprise will not be easy from either the human or technical perspectives.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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