Software defined networking (SDN) has been floating around for the last few years but it has mainly been in the eye-line of carriers looking to rapidly provision networks. With everything else in the enterprise becoming virtualised, it seems that the network is going to follow.
Hugh Ujhazy, a principal analyst with BNITS, said during the recent APAC Press & Service Provider Summit :"From an enterprise perspective, if you can do a bunch of things like application performance monitoring and you can adjust bandwidth with some level of flexibility, maybe you don't need SDN. Right? Maybe SDN is only useful to carriers, and allow them to lower their opex in a market which we all agree has a decreasing revenue stream over time. So it doesn't really belong in an enterprise strategy".
When we look at SDN, it's easy to get sucked in by the hype and the "cool factor" of some of the technology. But, like the cloud and big data, once you get past the hype, it really comes down to what you can actually do with the new tools. For example, Erik Papir from HP Networking said that the ability to tweak the network in real-time for specific applications and point-in-time requirements will drive the business case for companies to invest in SDN technologies.
Papir mentioned an SDN application developed by HP that allowed network administrators to augment the bandwidth allocated to Lync in real time so that call quality could be maintained or enhanced during specific times. This goes further than simple QoS. This application was able to manage bandwidth allocation in real time.
Jon Vestal, the vice president for product architecture at Pacnet Global, said :"it's enabling that enterprise in order to, or enabling that enterprise to make decisions on the performance of their specific service or application end-to-end and be able to see completely across the network what's happening. Something that carriers are very bad at historically is giving - sorry - is giving that transparency, right? It's always, - We didn't fix it, but it's working all of a sudden, right?".
It's pretty clear that SDN is coming. Amit Sinha Roy, the vice president for marketing and strategy at Tata Communications, noted: "Analysts are predicting almost a ten-fold growth in terms of equipment revenue for SDN, going up to more than $3 billion over the next two years from the current $300 million. So it is real, it's here, and enterprises are adopting it in the areas where it makes sense".
All of the panellists agreed that one of the challenges facing companies looking at SDN is that it is still a relatively immature technology and there's confusion in the marketplace. While there are SDN-ready solutions in the market today, the applications needed to leverage the new technology is still trailing – much like how Amazon launched its compute and storage technologies but it took a little while for companies to find ways to exploit the new potential.
HP has announced a new enterprise app store for SDN applications. However, how those applications will operate in a heterogeneous network environment where there's equipment from multiple vendors remains to be seen. And the issues around security remain or may even be heightened. In the past, compromising a network usually meant some level of physical access to equipment was required. But in an SDN world, a motivated individual or a poorly written application that can control an important network function could be dangerous.
As far as transitioning from a traditional network to SDN, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. Vestal noted: "I don't think an enterprise - well, I don't see anyone who's going to go to 100% SDN-based solution because not everything fits that".
Anthony Caruana attended the NetEvents APAC Press and Service Provider Forum as a guest of NetEvents.