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Why it's time to wrap brains around software-defined networking

Gartner says under 500 orgs use SDN in production, but it's condensing in the cloud

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Software-defined networking has generated lots of noise in recent months, thanks in no small part to the fact that VMware and Cisco don't know whether it's okay to send one another Christmas cards any more.

That pair, and plenty of others, are talking up software-defined networking (SDN) as a must-have technology for anyone so much as contemplating anything cloudy.

The reality, says a piece of Gartner research released last week and titled “Mainstream Organizations Should Prepare for SDN Now” is that outside cloud-scale operators SDN is not a must-have, although smaller outfits need to start thinking about it.

“To date, there has been extremely limited mainstream adoption of SDN,” the analyst house's Andrew Lerner, Ronni J. Colville write. “As of January 2014, Gartner estimates there are less than 500 global production implementations worldwide. Thus, production SDN expertise is extremely limited outside of very large network operators, and there are few well-known best practices.”

Gartner feels those large operators have proved that SDN is worth doing, for reasons including very considerable time-to-deployment difference for those provisioning virtualised workloads, centralised management instead of box-by-box wrangling and the potential for big operational expense savings. Those outcomes, the analyst says, is worth shooting for.

It's therefore time to begin preparing to contemplate how and when you'll adopt SDN.

That's a lot of delaying caveats, but Gartner says they're necessary because SDN is not a throw-the-switch kind of thing. Instead, the analyst says data centre teams will need to be taught to work together to understand SDN's cross-disciplinary impact, so they can then plan how to make best use of it. DevOps may need to be brought to bear to realise SDN's benefits. Initial adoption should be confined to projects that need SDN, but organisations should begin to plan for the day on which they make SDN a requirement in any networking kit they purchase.

As part of that planning process, Gartner recommends evaluation of SDN should consider non-incumbent vendors. That call's good news for SDN and perhaps also not quite the kind of disruption SDN vendors were thinking of when they contemplated virtualising the network. ®

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