Migrating To A Software-Defined World

At ONUG, IT leaders discuss challenges in shifting from legacy infrastructure, the need for open networking, and the rise of SD-WAN.

Lee Doyle

November 1, 2016

4 Min Read
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IT leaders are increasingly looking to implement software-defined solutions to enable a migration to DevOps-style applications and hybrid cloud platforms. At the Open Network User Group (ONUG) fall meeting in New York City last week, IT leaders highlighted the progress they've made in this journey as well as the challenges in shifting from legacy, infrastructure-defined applications to the agile world of software-defined applications that can run on private or public cloud.

ONUG is led by representatives of leading Fortune 500 IT organizations. Its goal is to promote the use and standardization of open networking. ONUG provides reference requirements and testing the use of SDN to promote network orchestration and automation. 

Requirements and challenges

A number of IT leaders at ONUG expressed frustration with the challenge of this migration not only in terms of the new skill sets required to write and support applications, but also the lack of critical tools. Required tool sets include ability to automate application deployment, virtually monitor the health and performance of applications, they said. And of course, there's the challenge of securing applications in a hybrid cloud environment. They also said the shift requires organizations redefine the relationship with their infrastructure suppliers and the need to leverage open source tools.

Some of the ways organizations are tackling these challenges include moving IT teams' skill sets from vendor-specific knowledge to general-purpose computer science, ONUG speakers said. For example, they're hiring new computer science graduates.

The open software-defined network

A key theme voice by a number of speakers at ONUG was that IT needs choices for open, interoperable, manageable hardware and software-defined infrastructure, including networking. The networking industry must adapt to this fundamental change in IT operations by leveraging highly adaptable, cost effective open platforms. The largest IT buyers, including the hyperscale cloud providers, telecom service providers, and the Fortune 500, have all demanded that vendors embrace open network technologies.  

In a software-defined world, the network must be open standards-based, programmable, agile, and adaptive, ONUG speakers said. DevOps teams -- not just experienced networking professionals -- should be able to quickly and easily design, install, and manage networks that meet the specific requirements of their unique application environment.  

White-box switches

ONUG speakers discussed the early adoption and challenges associated with white-box networks -- branded or unbranded Ethernet switches with independent network operating software.  Enterprises have been hesitant to widely adopt white-box networking in their data center or campus, preferring to stick with traditional integrated switches from Cisco, Arista, HPE, or Juniper.  

IT leaders at ONUG said they need a clear, low-risk path to accelerate white-box deployment; for example, they want to know if they can use a particular white box with a certain network operating systems and know it will work.


ONUG highlighted the industry's high expectations for software-defined WAN. After a couple years of proof of concepts and initial deployment, 2017 is set to be the year SD-WAN hits commercial scale, several speakers said. In fact, more than 10,000  branches in Fortune 1000 organizations, including major retail and financial services firms, already are connected via SD-WAN, according to Doyle Research.  

During 2017, we will see huge growth as most many large banks, retailers, manufacturers, healthcare organizations, and others rely on SD-WAN to deliver secure, reliable, high-performance connectivity to their branch and data centers.




Ten SD-WAN suppliers exhibited at ONUG, including two new suppliers, NTT Innovation Institute and CradlePoint. This growth in SD-WAN is likely to increase the momentum for convergence of branch networking applications, including WAN optimization, routing, firewalls, and WiFi appliances.

Take the long view

IT managers are rapidly migrating towards software-defined architectures and require tools such as  monitoring and analytics to rapidly configure, provision, and manage a complex set of network, compute, and storage resources. Organizations like ONUG are critical to assist IT managers by providing a framework, standards, and best practices to migrate to software defined, hybrid cloud architectures.

Initial experiences from IT leaders indicate that the journey to agile, hybrid cloud delivery is long and challenging. IT needs to take the long view and be prepared for roadblocks. Developing a new IT infrastructure requires new IT skills. IT must attract new talent and cross-train current IT staff to learn DevOp principals and reorganize into cross-functional teams.

About the Author(s)

Lee Doyle

Principal Analyst, Doyle ResearchLee Doyle is Principal Analyst at Doyle Research. Doyle Research delivers quantitative and qualitative analysis, forecasting, and market positioning advice to network infrastructure suppliers, service providers, and IT industry professionals. At Doyle Research, Lee research targets the Evolution of Intelligent Networks: SDN, NFV, and COTS. The Intelligent Network (both enterprise and telecom) is a critical part of the overall IT infrastructure. The Intelligent Network requires scalability, reliability, security, quality of service, programmability, and manageability. Lee holds a B.A. in Economics from Williams College.

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