Software-Defined Networks: Nervous Time for IT Departments

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Software-Defined Storage: Driving a New Era of the Cloud

Packet Design surveyed attendees at the SDN/MPLS International Conference that was held in early November in Washington, DC. The company said that most of the responders were service providers. This is the second consecutive year that a survey was performed.

Use of SDNs is up, the company said: More than half, 53 percent, of this year’s responders have deployed SDNs. Only 19 percent had last year. It’s still early in the game, however. According to the release, 42 percent of the companies with SDN deployments have up to a quarter of their networks configured in this manner; 11 percent have between 26 percent and 75 percent.

The release says that agility, supporting new services, reducing costs and improving availability and performance are the drivers. The folks saw the upside and the concerns about SDNs:

Lack of industry standards edged out SDN complexity as the number one concern for service providers (56 percent vs. 52 percent – Only 23 percent were concerned about standards in 2013). “Inadequate management visibility and control” worries 32 percent of respondents, up from 22 percent in 2013. The number concerned about “cost to implement” remained roughly the same (22 percent). 

The reality is that concepts that sound elegant and beneficial often are, but a great deal of uncertainty and consternation also surround the new approach. That is especially true in cases in which the innovation is as fundamental as SDNs.

SearchSDN put together a list of top concerns that IT pros have about SDNs. The top of the list is dominated by security and performance monitoring worries. More specifically, IT folks wonder if intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems (IDSes and IPSes) will work, whether Media Access Control (MAC) addresses can be tracked and if hypervisors will become weak links.

Other concerns include whether SDNs fit in with established automation features with which users are unfamiliar, if the skill sets necessary to keep networks running will solidify, and how best to sell the concept to decision makers.

Hyperscale Data Center

Scott Hogg, the CTO at GTRI, uses a feature at Network World to offer a tremendous amount of information about SDN security. He begins by pointing out that new “attack vectors” will emerge and that “new strategies for securing the control plane traffic are needed.” In other words, life is about to get more interesting for IT staffs. Hogg looks at the dangers, which exist at several levels, and offers some tips. The high-level advice is predictable:

Before an organization embarks on an SDN deployment project, they should consider how they will secure the system during the early design stage.  Don’t leave security until the final clean-up phase.  If an organization waits until it is working, then hardening the northbound and southbound control messages may cause service-affecting problems.  Like most things, setting it up right from the start will save organizations many problems down the road.

SDNs represent a fundamental shift in the way networks operate. The idea wouldn’t have gotten as far as it has without having a tremendous potential upside. At the same time, it is important to remember that SDNs represent great change, though change is hard and in some cases risky.

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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