One trend that has been affecting the security of enterprise networks is BYOD, or bring your own device. According to InformationWeek's 2012 State of Mobile Security, CIOs need to put the brakes on BYOD, shore up Wi-Fi polices and bolster encryption to secure corporate data. Pitt says SDN can enable an organization to control access to the network and resources at a very granular level. "You can directly program the network for the characteristics of an individual user."
The ability to program the network is what software-defined networking is all about, says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research, but OpenFlow isn't the only avenue available. He notes some vendors such as Arista and Brocade have open APIs, enabling software-defined networks to work together. "A lot of people have linked software-defined networking and OpenFlow together, but it's programmability that makes a software-defined network."
Software-defined networks could help enterprises deal with big data, as well as cloud computing, adds Doyle. "Big data is a network challenge--what's going to be local, and what's going to be remote?"
Doyle says OpenFlow is getting a lot of vendor support and there are a lot of OpenFlow products going to market, but it does pose challenges. "It's a new set of tools that have to be learned, and it doesn't do everything."
Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says service providers and telcos in particular should look at software-defined networks, even though the technology is in its early days. He says SDN can help automate manual processes for companies looking to consolidate and scale up data centers.
It's still early days for SDN, says Kerravala: "There are lots of potential trajectories for the technology." He says enterprises need to look at their own particular challenges and focus on solving a specific business problem. For example, SDN lends itself to separating network traffic. "Software-defined networking is for networks what VMware was for servers," he explains.