When Is the Right Time to Jump Into SDNs?

Carl Weinschenk

Software-defined networks (SDNs) represent a massive shift in IT. The bottom line is simple and shows the potency of the SDN concept: Software has become so powerful that what formerly required physical changes to the network now can be achieved far more quickly by flipping a few virtual switches in a data center or other remote locale.

But the massive change that SDNs represent is also scary and difficult. A survey released last week that was conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Juniper Networks suggests that almost half (47.5 percent) of the 400 IT decision makers surveyed in health care, education and financial services don’t want anything to do with SDNs.

Of course, the survey doesn’t phrase it quite like that. The causes of their reticence are varied, according to Network World:

Factors dissuading adoption of SDN may include cost, which 50% cited as a challenge or potential barrier, difficulty integrating existing systems (35%), security (34%), and existing lack of skills (28%).

For proponents of SDNs, the report does show good news, however: Of the 52.5 percent who have SDN plans, 74 percent will implement them within a year and 30 percent within a month.

Infonetics also did a survey focusing on SDNs. Cliff Grossner, Ph.D., a directing analyst for the firm, said that the market will solidify during the next couple of years. Infonetics echoed Juniper’s finding that some organizations are jumping in quickly: 45 percent of responding companies are planning to deploy SDN during 2015, with 32 percent more planning to do so in 2016. 

Infonetics also found attractions and drawbacks. The top attraction to the 101 North American purchasing decision makers who were surveyed is “improving management capabilities” and “improving application performance.” The biggest challenges are “potential network interruptions” and problems with “interoperability with existing network equipment.”

RnRMarketResearch.com offers a good list of the leading vendors. In addition to the fears expressed by respondents to the two surveys, organizations may choose to sit back and wait for the marketplace to shake out, both from the standards and business perspectives.

The pressure is particularly intense on companies that have dominated to date. After all, losing market share hurts. Cisco, which of course is the top networking dog, clearly has a lot at stake. Last week, the vendor launched its SDN project through its Insieme “spin-in” start-up. The details are best understood by people with an understanding of the very complex world of SDNs and its cousin, network functions virtualization (NFV).

The top line news is that Cisco introduced its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) and wants to entice vendors to jump in:

Cisco is offering four ACI starter bundles, intended to act as proof-of-concept deployments or small production environments to start. Users can then scale and extend to existing networks as they wish. The bundles start at $250,000 and allow organizations to extend ACI policies to existing Nexus fabrics and redirect traffic to the ACI fabric for policy enforcement as needed.

Both the benefits and challenges of SDNs are obvious. Organizations need to think long and hard about whether to jump in and, perhaps more importantly, when.

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 cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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