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Enterprises lukewarm to SDNs

Jim Duffy | June 22, 2015
Cultural, legacy, business case issues create adoption gap with cloud providers.

hesitant business decision

Even thoughs ervice providersare well on their way with SDNs, enterprise adoption of the technology is slowed by a host of issues.

Chief among them is cultural inertia. Large enterprises in particular are loathe to change anything, be it technology, operational processes or organizational structure, especially if the need to do so is unclear or viewed as potentially risky.

Another is the business case. Implementing open source software on bare metal hardware consistently referred to here at this week's Open Network Summit conference as the building blocks for open, vendor-independent SDNs may initially reduce capital cost but the long term benefits of operational cost reduction, ease of use, automation, flexibility, high performance and orchestration may be difficult to justify or align with a company's core business.

Integration with an existing, or brownfield environment might be another discouragement. Businesses could be entrenched for decades in a particular brand or way of networking, and have a sunk investment of tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure and trained staff to operate it. Trying to integrate SDN technologies, be they open source or vendor sourced, could prove disruptive, costly and time consuming, especially for enterprises that lack the integration skills to do so.

The last impediment is the immaturity of SDN technology. Though they've made progress as far as stability in the last five years since the ONS conference started, SDN offerings are still largely unproven and battle tested in mission critical large enterprise environments.

"If one person does it in a compelling way, everyone will follow," says Guru Parulkar, executive director of the Open Networking Research Center and ONS. "But they need one or two early adopters to demonstrate it."

The National Security Agency is reaping the benefits of a small scale OpenFlow SDN in its enterprise IT environment. The agency is using SDN to gain greater control and visibility over its network, for security and more efficient operation.

But even deploying the SDN in a small part of its campus network, and then attempting to expand it, was bogged down in bureaucracy and cultural resistance.

"This is actually a really big problem," says Bryan Larish, NSA technical director for enterprise connectivity and specialized IT services. "The technology, quite frankly, is the easy part. It's how do we change the culture, how do we affect this massive machinery to make a move in a new direction."

"It's not simple when it completely changes how a company traditionally operates," says Robert Bauer, IT director at Asurion, a provider of device protection services for smartphones, tablets, consumer electronics, appliances, satellite receivers and jewelry. "The people and culture changes, that's what kills you."


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