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SDN Planning Under Way, Survey Finds

An Enterprise Strategy Group poll of IT networking pros indicates that many are eying a shift to software-defined networking.

Software-defined networking is on more companies' radars, but remains a couple of years from becoming a mainstream technology strategy, according to a recent report.

Enterprise Strategy Group's "The Evolving State of the Network," which drew upon a survey of more than 300 IT professionals responsible for evaluating, purchasing and managing networking technologies, found that two-thirds of enterprises and midsize companies polled are committed to SDN as a long-term strategy.

Where they are in that commitment varies greatly, however. The biggest chunk -- 39% -- is in the planning and evaluation stage, while 27% have actually begun implementations. Another 24% say they're interested but have no SDN initiatives underway, while just 10% either have no interest or are not familiar enough with SDN to have a position.

That 90% of respondents are at least interested in SDN, which promises to make networks more flexible and agile by separating the function of traffic control from network hardware, is a strong indicator that the technology is about to arrive in a big way.

"It's reflective of the fact that organizations need to change the way they're doing networking today," Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with ESG, said in a phone interview. "Everyone's hoping SDN will help them make that change."

Respondents who are either deploying or evaluating SDN clearly see the technology as a way to address some of the biggest network challenges they face. The services they say they're most likely to deploy (or have already deployed) through SDN controllers are network security (65%), network virtualization (62%), WAN optimization (57%) and network provisioning (55%).

What's more, most organizations are pursuing SDN deployments on a wide scale, with 47% planning to deploy it on their datacenter network, 25% focusing on the campus network, and 15% opting for enterprise-wide deployments. Just 14% are limiting their SDN efforts to branch or remote office networks.

"Organizations are recognizing the fact that the current legacy network really isn't working for them," said Laliberte. "It's amazing to see how far we've come in 18 months."

[Read why organizations shouldn't overlook security in their SDN plans in "Beware SDN Security Risks, Experts Warn."]

ESG also asked survey participants which groups within IT were influencing their networking technology purchasing decisions, and the results indicated a subtle shift in the balance of power. While the IT architecture (46%) and network teams (23%) were the most common responses, virtualization teams (11%) were named by as many respondents as the application, server and storage teams combined.

"Virtualization teams are getting more of a seat at the table for infrastructure decisions," Laliberte said. "It's not a trend yet, but it's a data point worth watching."

The rising profile of virtualization technologies, and SDN in particular, will lead to a growing portion of organizations actively testing and undertaking proof-of-concept efforts with the technology during 2014, and the number of live deployments is expected to grow significantly over the next couple of years, Laliberte said.

With growing numbers of SDN products expected to hit the market in the near future, the takeaway for companies interested in SDN but still sitting on their hands is clear.

"It's probably time for you to consider setting up a sandbox for SDN," Laliberte said.

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