One of the more interesting issues confronting IT professionals is software-defined networking, or SDN, a technology that's so new, most cannot even agree on a single definition -- much like cloud just a few years ago. It's also a piece of the datacenter that is worth watching over the next 12 months.
In order to get a better handle on what SDN is and what questions there are about the technology, Enterprise Conversation recently polled its readers to ask what is it about SDN that IT professionals are most curious about.
Nearly 40 readers participated in the poll, "What About SDN." The questions that Enterprise Conversation asked ranged from calculating return on investment (ROI), to asking what exactly do we mean when we talk about SDN.
The issue of what SDN is remains complex, since the technology is still new, but a handful of startups, along with established players such as VMware, Juniper Networks, Cisco Systems, Alcatel-Lucent (this site’s sponsor), and others are all pouring money into products and research.
In December, John W. Verity wrote a blog for EC that helped offer an introduction to SDN. In that blog, Verity found that SDN tries to overcome some of the issues with traditional hardware switches, since the IT administrator or network manager needs to reprogram the switches when the data center expands. Enter the SDN:
SDN tackles this problem from a new point of view: from up above. It effectively floats the control plane -- all that control function -- off the data plane, the logic that actually forwards packets from switch to switch. SDN depends on a centralized controller that, in effect, sites above and looks down on the entire network and tells the switches how to create new pathways to handle different streams of packets as needed, moment by moment. This controller maintains a complete and richly detailed model of the network's physical gear and topology and all the services the network is meant to provide.
A recent presentation by IDC also found that as companies move toward big-data analytics as an everyday tool, SDN will become even more important as more pressure is placed on the network.
Still, the term is elusive. Earlier this week, Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald challenged the whole idea of how the IT world interprets “software-defined” anything, writing in a blog that at the heart of the matter, hardware is still involved, whether it’s networking, security, or something else.
The other issue on the mind of EC readers is "what is the ROI?", which is hard to determine since many datacenters do not have SDN installed yet, and many hesitate to rip-and-replace old routers and switches since the technology remains new.
Here’s how the EC poll broke down:
- Forty-five percent wanted to know what kind of ROI SDN delivers
- Thirty-eight percent wanted to know what the costs are of implementing SDN.
- Thirty-two percent asked if SDN helps with big-data.
- Thirty-two percent wanted just to know what SDN is.
- Thirty percent asked if SDN required replacement of all networking gear.
- Finally, 27 percent wanted to know how to manage a SDN deployment.
The Enterprise Conversation poll on SDN remains live on the website, and readers can still participate and leave comments. During the year, EC will offer more blogs and analysis of SDN and what it means for IT.