SDN: You Can't Argue Against It

As executive director of the ONF, Dan Pitt hears all the excuses about why organizations are waiting to adopt SDN. Here he explains why they're wrong.

Dan Pitt

August 7, 2014

4 Min Read
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As an organization dedicated to software-defined networking (SDN), we usually focus on the positive -- how many end-users are adopting, planning for, or considering SDN. These increasing numbers are proof that the efforts of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) are making an impact. Yet, according to the "Seventh Annual State of the Network Global Study" by Network Instruments, 68% of respondents still have no plans to deploy SDN. If your company is among them, you are three years late to the game.

I am very familiar with the rebuttals to that statement; I hear them often as the executive director of the ONF. If one of the below responses is the reason your company has held off getting on board with SDN, here's why you should reconsider: 

"We're not three-years late. SDN is up-and-coming technology."
SDN has been referred to as "up-and-coming technology" since well before ONF was launched in 2011. It is still considered a new innovation, but companies need to be participating in the conversations that have been taking place in order to stay up to date. There are hundreds of actual end-users leveraging SDN within their networks (Google, NTT, Genesis Hosting, Stanford University, Pacnet, and Kanazawa University Hospital, just to name a few). SDN is being realized, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream. Companies that do not begin engaging in and planning for the transition now are going to be at a disadvantage among the competition, at risk of being left behind.

"The SDN products that we need aren't in the market yet."
I think companies would be surprised to learn how many SDN product lines are now commercially available from vendors of all sizes, from leading companies to promising startups, focusing on solutions for cloud, telecommunications, data center, wireless, campus, and more. We have a substantial product directory on our website. These fall into three main categories: software-based OpenFlow switches (like those based on OVS), hardware-based OpenFlow 1.0 switches, and software products in and above the control plane.

I am aware that the market is waiting for more hardware-based OpenFlow 1.3 switches, which will emerge this fall in much larger numbers. But there are so many products available for at least lab trials or small deployments that you have no excuse for not ramping up your learning based on these.

"SDN requires new skills that our team does not currently have."
SDN does require some new skills, and new processes, but the best time to begin acquiring those skills is now. An increasing number of venues offer training. Education and skills development will help you preserve your biggest investment -- your human resources. If you invest in them, they will love you back.

"Our networks cost us a lot of money, and transitioning to SDN would be too expensive."
We understand that networks are serious investments for companies, and we want network operators to preserve their investments, so it's pretty amazing that so disruptive a development as SDN can be introduced gradually, without a forklift upgrade. However slowly you start, the benefits can accrue immediately, reducing capex and opex and creating new opportunities for service differentiation and revenue growth.

"There's no straightforward, tested way to migrate to SDN."
It's good that there is no single way to migrate to SDN, thanks to the infinite number of ways operators can exploit SDN. But newcomers can benefit from the experiences of those who have at least begun the transition. I recommend engaging in conversations with companies that are implementing or have deployed SDN to learn what works, what doesn't, and how the process can be improved. ONF's Migration Working Group explores and documents how companies have made the transition, and develops migration tools and metrics. 

"It is not a priority for us right now."
It needs to be. Given the importance of the network to the IT function and a company's operation, if the network is out of date, so is the company. Not too long ago I was challenged by a major network operator who asked how I was going to compel his company to adopt SDN. I responded that I was not going to compel him to do anything -- his competitors would, by offering services he could not offer at prices he could not match. If you aren't at least experimenting with SDN already, it's time to start. 

In what ways has your company embraced SDN? I'd love to hear about your motivations, as well as the challenges that you overcame, in the comments below.

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