Man vs. machine, SDN edition

In today’s world filled with cell phones, tablets and other smart devices, operators are on the hot seat to manage network services quickly in order to avoid a slow and overloaded network. Software-defined networking (SDN) is generating a lot of attention, mainly as a tool to provide the flexibility and programmability needed to do just that. While the hype around its possibilities is here, is SDN ready for primetime? Technically, yes. But there is a problem, which isn’t related to the technology, but rather with the people who must manage this change.

The enterprise network has been dominated by trusted OEMs that provided full support for their equipment with its complicated embedded software. SDN helps the network break free of this dominating vendor lock-in by offering bare metal switches, which have the programmability to control and change various parts of the network in order to offer increased flexibility to the network operators. But this also shifts the ownership of network solutions from the OEMs that designed the software and hardware of the traditional network to the operators, presenting operators with a new area to manage, new responsibilities and a whole new set of programming rules to learn.

This puts added pressure on the operators and carries a lot of risk for them, making the value proposition for SDN less clear. This is particularly true for the enterprise, although many telecom carriers and cloud data centers are already making adjustments to change their business model accordingly. Many enterprises are seeking ways to reduce this risk by looking for software that will manage their SDN for them. But this creates the same vendor lock-in that SDN is seeking to eliminate. Instead, the industry should work together to create a way for operators to fully control the network within an interface that they are already familiar with. Then, while an SDN expert might be required to deploy an SDN system, an easy-to-use interface could be used to control the network’s behavior. This places operators firmly in control without requiring them to learn an entirely new programming skillset or to hire a fleet of SDN experts.

Solving these SDN adoption issues likely involves restructuring IT boundaries and an emergence of trusted software solutions in order to enable operators to regain control of network configuration in light of their newfound hardware independence. Doing so will be well worth the effort as the network’s programmability and flexibility allows companies to deploy new services, eliminate slow traffic and create a better user experience for both employees and customers.

Shweta Latawa
Shweta Latawa
Shweta Latawa is the strategic marketing manager for Digital Networking product group. Shweta handles R&D operations and governance, corporate strategy and business transformation, as well as design engineering. She also serves as Market Area Working Group liaison to the Open Networking Foundation. She holds an MBA from University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Engineering from Thapar Institute in India. Find her on Twitter @ShwetaLatawa.

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