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Knowledge Is Key When Implementing SDN

Companies must confront security concerns and vendor hype when planning and adopting software-defined networking.

IT executives should take a measured approach--and no less--when considering adopting one of today's hottest infrastructure technologies: namely, software-defined networking.

Such is the conclusion of the latest InformationWeek report, which highlights the business benefits of SDN. The report, which draws from InformationWeek surveys of IT decision makers completed in the past several months, indicates that while many enterprises are at least thinking about their SDN strategies, most have done little or nothing to move closer to adoption of SDN.

In fact, 43% of respondents said their companies either had no plans to test SDN technologies or didn't know what the plans were, while another 27% said they didn't plan to start testing for at least a year. Another 21% had SDN testing on the calendar for the next year, while just 9% either had SDNs in production or were actively testing the technology.

"The technology is both sophisticated and elegant. It also promises tangible business benefits, including faster provisioning of network resources, more automation and a concomitant reduction in operational expenses, greater flexibility in network configuration and customization, increased utilization of network capacity with a reduction in capital expense, and better security," writes the report's author, Kurt Marko. "The key word, for now, is 'promises.' Real live SDN implementations are few, and commercial products are young and scarce."

That's not stopping a multitude of vendors from trying to capitalize on the fast-developing SDN hype, with good reason. The report notes that research firm MarketsandMarkets conservatively predicts that the SDN market will reach $2.1 billion by 2017, while IDC is much more aggressive, predicting that the SDN market will reach $3.7 billion by 2016.

The pursuit of those riches is expected to spur many vendors to get a little overzealous in slapping the SDN label on their products. For that reason, Marko argues that getting educated enough about the technology to effectively separate the SDN market's wheat from its chaff is an increasingly critical priority for any company heading down the SDN path.

"IT leaders should begin developing a strategy to harness productivity and business benefits while being informed enough to withstand the inevitable overselling and misappropriation of an admittedly loosely defined term--the 'SDN-washing' of vendors seeking to capitalize on the trend du jour," he writes.

Focus on the Benefits

Among the primary business benefits Marko identifies in the InformationWeek report are faster, more agile service provisioning; more holistic network management; the ability to apply more granular unified security policy; reduced operational expenses resulting from improved server utilization and administrative efficiency; and reduced capital expenses due to better use of existing equipment, phasing out of dedicated hardware and reduced vendor lock-in.

As Marko notes, those benefits jibe with the results of InformationWeek's recent IT Spending Priorities Survey, which found that the top four priorities for 2013 are improved security, increased server virtualization, and upgraded storage and network infrastructures.

Security, in particular, appears to be the hot-button consideration among companies investigating SDN adoption. Some 44% of respondents expect SDNs to help them overcome security complexity introduced by virtualization of server and storage resources, and 42% say SDNs will make their networks somewhat or much more secure. Meanwhile, 12% believe SDNs will compromise security, with 44% worried about lack of integration with existing security technologies, 40% concerned about potential hacking of SDN controllers and 38% fearing added complexity.

Security fears notwithstanding, Marko strongly recommends that IT leaders not push SDNs to the back burner.

"We're very early in the evolution of enterprise networks from a collection of physically interconnected hardware to a pool of abstract, algorithmically controlled virtualized resources," writes Marko. "However, like server virtualization, it's both likely to succeed and too big to ignore."

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