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SDN benefits obscured by misconceptions: How to beat the myths

Software-defined networking can benefit customer organizations, but lingering misconceptions hamper broader adoption. Greg Stemberger of Force 3 debunks five common SDN myths.

Early in the adoption curve of any new technology lie misunderstandings and even potential exaggeration about its capabilities -- or lack thereof.

In our work with both public and private sector customers, we see this almost daily with the continued evolution and emerging adoption of software-defined networking (SDN). Despite the hype, or maybe because of it, many organizations are puzzled by SDN and the benefits it offers. To help today's IT consumers better understand SDN benefits and challenges, we've debunked five of the most common misconceptions about the emerging technology.

Misconception No. 1 -- SDN is OpenFlow

You could consider OpenFlow to be the founding father of SDN. Many people still equate OpenFlow, as the first touch point to the new technology, directly with SDN.

But SDN's definition is now much broader than OpenFlow. It has blossomed into something bigger than just one particular protocol implementation.

While OpenFlow remains a crucial piece of SDN technology, it's not the only one. SDN encompasses the overarching idea of separating control from data, from a principle standpoint. Think of SDN as a more effective and efficient way for companies to execute their networking initiatives. The basic principles of SDN can be applied to other IT infrastructure components, such as security.

Misconception No. 2 -- SDN requires programming skills

The ability to drive customization with programmability is a foundational tenet of SDN. When communicated in this manner, it seems as if adoption of SDN requires advanced programming skills. This misconception has slowed adoption because organizations are afraid they don't have that skillset, or that it would be too expensive to find someone who does.

What many organizations don't realize is that there are turnkey, vendor-supported solutions that can be implemented without having to write a single line of code. These platforms provide user interfaces that allow you to customize with a web interface, bring out user and graphical interfaces and utilize SDN capabilities without programming against it. You can easily get comfortable with it, start exploring and drive your own customization of the network without traditional programming skills.

Misconception No. 3 -- SDN requires a complete rip and replace

Networking across an entire infrastructure can take advantage of SDN benefits such as automation and centralized management.
Greg StembergerPrincipal network architect, Force 3

It's human nature to fear change. The thought of a new technology totally disrupting your IT infrastructure is terrifying.

With SDN, there is no need or absolute benefit to 'rip and replace' your current networking technology. You can gradually introduce SDN for specific use cases.

Once SDN is introduced to your network, you will find new opportunities, advantages and additional capabilities as it expands and opens the door for new services not available through your legacy system. The idea is not to do a full swap over, but instead to gradually move more traffic over for a graceful mitigation of SDN infrastructure.

Misconception No. 4 -- SDN benefits only pertain to data center networking

While it is true that most SDN adoption is currently in the data center space, this is not the only place where SDN is applicable. Networking across an entire infrastructure can take advantage of SDN benefits such as automation and centralized management.

For example, I've seen software-defined WAN as a new frontier. Here, SDN brings forth a more cost effective opportunity to better utilize or offset expensive WAN circuits.  SDN provides the platform needed to provide a much more powerful WAN environment, using multiple types of transport concurrently to drive efficiencies to WAN costs and to optimize connectivity to the cloud.

Misconception No. 5 -- SDN is years away from adoption

SDN is not a vague concept that might impact us in the future. Organizations around the world are reaping its advantages right now. They are using it to simplify networks and drive innovation with customization. SDN is now.

About the author
Gregory Stemberger is a Principal Network Architect at Force 3, Inc.  He is a triple CCIE and one of the first in the world to achieve the VCDX-NV certification with more than 12 years of progressive experience designing and implementing secure enterprise, campus, and data center networks in both public and private sectors. His work at Force 3 is focused on next generation network designs, overlay networks, network virtualization, and building segmented network access control. Follow him on Twitter @gjstem or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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This was last published in October 2015

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In what ways does your organization benefit from SDN or network virtualization?
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Gregory, nicely written article. You're certainly correct that many organizations are reaping the rewards of SDN deployments today. But even more are investigating how to incorporate SDN into their traditional network designs. Ixia is helping to lead many organizations through these transitions to SDN with our solutions for testing SDN networks. To learn more visit: http://www.ixiacom.com/software-defined-network-sdn
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