Ask a seasoned network engineer about the “year of the LAN” and you’re likely to get a chuckle and this query in response: “Which one?” Indeed, various pundits insisted regularly in the late 80s that this would be the year that local-area networking would take off. Then it took off and nobody paid any more attention.
The same thing is happening now with SDN. As Jim Duffy notes in his end-of-year news wrap-up, it was a year of non-stop action for SDN. Was 2014 the “year of the SDN”? Nah. Will 2015 be? Probably not, even though TechTarget’s Shamus McGillicuddy highlights several intriguing pilots at United Airlines and Cornell University, among others. As history has shown, network technology acceptance is a multi-year process.
For that process to get underway, SDN needs four things. Some of them it already has – it just needs more of them. And just so you know, SDN isn’t unique in this regard. These are the same four things every great technology needs for that exhilarating moment when it stops moving along the blade of the hockey stick and starts shooting up the handle.
Acceptance. Have you ever noticed that the Gartner’s hype cycle curve and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief both have five steps? Gartner’s plateau of productivity correlates nicely with the last of Kubler-Ross’ tenets, which is acceptance. Within the other steps of both sit all the sturm und drang associated with new technology and change. Stage five is not just the acceptance of customers that’s important; it’s also the acceptance of vendors.
That’s because every new technology threatens an old one. Stand fast during the stages of “washing,” in which vendors say they conform to new standards, even though those new standards haven’t been codified yet. Once vendors relearn the lessons that open always trumps proprietary, they reach stage five.
Success stories. Pilot projects are one thing, but what SDN needs in 2015 are unshakeable success stories. Vendors must have customers who are willing to say – whether in reference calls or in print – that SDN does everything it’s supposed to do in terms of making networks flexible, configurable, and more cost-effective than ever before. If you have a great success story to tell about SDN, don’t keep it to yourself under the guise of maintaining “strategic advantage.” The smarter everyone is about a groundbreaking technology, the easier it is for everyone to make it work for them.
Management tools. This is one of the real obstacles. Sure, most products have their own management tools, and that’s a good place to start. But the real indication of a technology’s value is its ability to help IT with that “single pane of glass” it wants to manage the network. Nobody wants to have to deploy a new tool for every technology. One of the big indications that SDN has succeeded in 2015 is the ability of IT to manage an SDN network the same way it manages every other facet of its network.
Killer app(s). This term isn’t as popular as it used to be, but the fact is, it’s still appropriate. When the light bulb goes on and network administrators and CIOs alike say, “Wow, I had no idea I could do that” and that solves a problem that’s been driving them crazy for years, then stand back. You won’t be able to keep people from adopting SDN.
What’s SDN’s killer app? The answer to that question has always intrigued me, and I suspect that it may be different for different businesses. But it involves a shift in power, in which admins are no longer slaves to the network, but rather become the masters in terms of making the network do their bidding.
Call it the “magic wand” effect, in which a simple cluster of code will make the network ready for the holiday crush, or a new product launch, or a company-wide videoconference, or speed cloud backup, and then revert an hour or four hours later, with another wave of the wave, to another set of demands.
Once it’s easy to identify these four attributes as they apply to SDN, then everyone will stop asking if we’re in the year of SDN. It’ll be obvious.