What's Next for SDN?

The explosive growth of the internet has fueled a nearly insatiable demand for online content including blogs, streaming movies and music, social media sites and so much more.

SDN emerged in the early 2010s out of necessity from the growing demands placed on networks that were designed for a “simpler,” more static computing environment.  However, the need for simultaneous access to different databases and servers and greater capacity, together with the explosive growth of personal mobile devices, require a network with greater agility, scalability, and flexibility to access applications, infrastructure and other IT resources on demand. Faced with such complexity and limited by existing equipment and policies, the move to SDN is a matter of when, not if.

The Impetus to Adopt SDN

Despite early predictions that widespread SDN adoption was inevitable, the original architectural approach behind SDN has earned more interest than acceptance. Gartner estimates that there are less than 2,000 deployed networks that meet the architectural requirements for SDN. Many of these networks can be found among household names like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft that have fully integrated SDN with their business plans.

These internet content providers (ICPs) also play a significant role in the growth of SDN by redefining how the underlying cloud networks are designed and operated. 

The explosive growth of the internet and increase in broadband availability have fueled a nearly insatiable demand for online content including immediate news updates, blogs, streaming movies and music, social media sites and online retailers to millions of users all over the world. This demand has pushed the limits of scalability and traffic growth, driving new approaches to building and operating networks.  ICPs also bring new solutions to the table with software playing an increasingly major role in achieving greater efficiencies, reduced capital and lower operating costs. This software first approach is also helping drive the acceptance of open source frameworks and with it, changes to networking gear and inter-operation that simplify installations, provisioning, and maintenance.

Even with its obvious advantages, SDN’s adoption rate is still in its early stages among mainstream enterprise customers. A 2017 survey by Network World of 294 networking professionals found that almost half (49%) are either considering or actively piloting SDN technologies. Another 18% said they had already deployed SDN technology or were upgrading it within their organization.

Executives are aware of SDN’s benefits, and the move toward agile development and continuous delivery is forcing companies to examine their own readiness for the new age of “everything-as-a-service” and pursue new goals like elastic scaling, agile provisioning, and disaggregation. Plus, with SDN, network maintenance is easier, less expensive, more flexible, and delivers new services faster.  Ultimately, application delivery improved by SDN’s operational efficiency, network automation, rapid time to service, cloud integration and accelerated revenue receipt will likely be the biggest drivers of adoption. 

No Time Like the Present

For providers and enterprises still on the fence about SDN, there are additional reasons for adopting an open standards-based SDN solution sooner rather than later. Competitors are meeting customer demands using multi-vendor, purpose-built networks, as well as companies like Amazon AWS that enter the SDN arena to provide data-center-to-data-center connectivity. There is also a demand for cross-border networks to link international customers to a provider with full connectivity to the cloud. Content customers are looking for on-demand delivery of services to manage operating expenses and only pay for what they use, whether for brief periods of days or weeks, or by the gigabyte or terabyte transferred. Access customers are looking to SDN solutions to mesh with their own service delivery functions for quicker installs for their end users. Network simplification, standardization, and orchestration of multi-vendor platforms in an SDN system reduce human error and installation intervals which means faster revenue recognition from the services provided. 

From a customer service perspective, SDN-enabled self-service portals let customers quote, order, and manage services without delay based on the requirements of the end-user. Standard pricing, streamlined order submission, and order statuses further enhance the customer experience and differentiate a provider in this new SDN world. Similarly, reduced provisioning to a real-time, on-demand model gives customers increased control of their networks and provides the agility they need to address requirements for bandwidth changes or new services.


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