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Surveys Point to Software-Defined Networking Growth

Two brand-new surveys show similar attitudes about the future adoption of SDN technology in the datacenter.

Two brand-new surveys show similar growth expectations for the emerging software-defined networking (SDN) technology, with about half of respondents reporting they'll soon have it in production.

Infonetics Research teased its for-sale "SDN Strategies: North American Enterprise Survey" in a news release this week that reported 45 percent of respondents -- who now use SDN or expect to evaluate it -- anticipate having SDN in live production in their datacenters by end of next year, jumping to 87 percent by end of 2016.

Meanwhile, Juniper Networks Inc. today announced its own "Software-Defined Networking Progress Report" that found some 53 percent of respondents plan to adopt SDN, with 74 percent of those saying that will happen within the next year.

Juniper, however, said its survey revealed "two distinct camps," with about 47 percent of respondents saying they had no plans whatsoever to adopt SDN.

While much-hyped in the networking and virtualization industries, SDN is a loosely defined phenomenon with no exact definition and -- some say -- very few compelling use cases. Major tenets of SDN include open standards and increased programmability of network functions via centralized commands from a control plane that's decoupled from the data -- or forwarding -- plane. SDN promises the increased usage of less-expensive white-box or bare-metal commodity switches and other network devices, moving the network intelligence about how to handle traffic from the devices to the central controller.

The benefits of SDN, Juniper reported, include improved network performance and efficiency, reported by 26 percent of respondents; simplified network operations (19 percent); cost savings on operations (13 percent); increased agility via automation and orchestration (13 percent); and improved services (12 percent).

Infonetics reported the top drivers for adopting SDN were improving management capabilities and improving application performance.

On the negative side, Juniper's survey reported cost was the major challenge, reported by 50 percent of respondents; difficulty integrating with existing systems (35 percent); security concerns (34 percent); and lack of skills from existing employees (28 percent).

In pitching its report, Infonetics didn't supply numbers about challenges to SDN adoption, but reported "potential network interruptions" and "interoperability with existing network equipment" were the leading barriers. Company exec Cliff Grossner said, "There's still some work to do on the part of SDN vendors. Expectations for SDN are clear, but there are still serious concerns about the maturity of the technology and the business case. Vendors need to work with their lead enterprise customers to complete lab trials and provide public demonstrations of success."

Juniper, just such a vendor, seems ready to do that. "The networking industry is going through a fundamental technology change driven by the need to turn up customer-facing apps more quickly and to simplify network operations," said company exec Mike Marcellin. "This evolution to SDN will not be overnight, but we're excited to see it happen and to partner with companies to help them realize their full SDN potential."

One seeming contrast in the two reports is the attitude toward hybrid implementations mixing new-age and traditional technologies. "According to the survey, [respondents] believe software-defined and traditional networks should be complementary," Juniper said. "The vast majority (63 percent) said business networks in the next five years will be a mix of software-defined and traditional."

Infonetics, however, said, "Meanwhile, enabling hybrid cloud is dead last on the list of drivers, a sign that SDN vendors have some work to do in educating enterprises that SDN can be an important enabler of hybrid cloud architectures."

Juniper said it surveyed 400 IT decision makers about their future plans to architect their networks. Infonetics said it interviewed 101 purchase-decision makers at medium and large organizations in North America that are either implementing SDN now or plan to evaluate the technology by the end of next year.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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