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Digital Spotlight: SDN -- a disruption waiting to happen

Sathya Mithra Ashok | June 4, 2014
Disruptive technologies do just what their name implies. They shake up existing markets and values and replace it with new markets. Such disruption can be painful, wrenching and traumatic, even though they play out over decades and, more often, come out for the better at the other end.

"The most important thing to comprehend is that SDN is an architecture, not a technology. It is a way of systematically designing networks from the ground up based on the key concept of centralised control over forwarding elements," states Matt Miller, senior manager of field system engineering for A/NZ at F5 Networks.

Besides understanding what SDN can do for an organisations's specific use case, there is also the issue of finding the right skill sets to make it work.

The organisation needs to build a capability in its people to evolve and grow with the SDN capability

"The key challenges our clients are facing is getting access to appropriate skills, reliable information, and developing a plan," states DiData's Fitch.

"The biggest challenge is that the networking industry has been pretty much the same for so long that people have built careers on doing things the same way. It is very similar to the mind-set change required when moving from CLI-based management to API automation [from command line to driving things programmatically]. This is where most network engineers struggle to make the transition," says Patterson.

"If an organisation is locked down in the rigour of traditional network design and deployment and apply that methodology to an SDN environment then you won't be successful. You are essentially changing from a router or switch based mind-set to a flow based. The bulk of network engineers are somewhat conditioned to the traditional methodology and will struggle to adapt," adds Lloyd.

"The converse is the virtualized software engineer doesn't usually have the underlying architecture knowledge of a fixed network (you will still need one) and as such will struggle with the constraints this applies to flow design.

"So the organisation needs to build a capability in its people to evolve and grow with the SDN capability," he says.

This is still early stages for the technology and use cases are rare. However, there's no dount that the path ahead is one of growth, change and increased adoption, as definitions and standards fall into place over time.

"SDN technology will develop along a similar path to server virtualization, with fundamental 'hypervisor-like' capability being enhanced with automation, orchestration and self-service to deliver the same high speed operational model for network and security as that of a VM," says Patterson.

"A lot of vendors have an SDN strategy. Unfortunately, our customers tell us that these strategies tend to vary in coherency. SDN does have a place but there is a danger of it becoming a solution in search of a problem. Consequently, starting an SDN conversation with the business case first can highlight whether the investment now, as an early adopter, is worth the risk," says Miller.

 

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