The Technology You Want May Not Be the Technology You Need
The surge in innovation that we've seen in the networking industry these past few years is revolutionizing the once-staid realm of routers and switches. Public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, software defined networking (SDN), and network functions virtualization (NFV) have the potential to redefine our concept of enterprise connectivity. But as in life, so it goes in networking: No one needs every new cool app or gadget to come to market. So how should you go about separating what's cool but irrelevant to you from what's cool and worth diving more deeply into?
Let's look at one of the hottest networking topics around.
Software Defined Networking (SDN)
For obvious reasons, vendors in the SDN space would like to frame the SDN adoption question not as an "if," but as a "when and how." The "how" options are crystallizing. In very general terms, enterprises will be choosing between software overlays on existing or whitebox hardware, or intelligence baked in to proprietary boxes in the manner of Cisco's now-shipping ACI. What hasn't quite crystallized, however, is SDN's importance to enterprise networking, as a recent Juniper study revealed.
When you look at the assumptions underpinning the dumb-box-with-software-intelligence vs. intelligence-in-the-box argument, it becomes easy to see why. While exploring the topic for an upcoming Enterprise Networking Planet feature, I spoke with Amir Sharif of Nuage Networks and Mike Marcellin of Juniper Networks. Sharif argued in favor of commodity hardware with a software overlay and Marcellin for intelligence primarily built in to the boxes themselves, but both assumed a need for maximum performance, as defined by qualities like capacity, QoS, resiliency, and high availability.
"The core of the data center network should have plenty of bandwidth so that the workloads on the servers can assume effectively an infinite amount of resources," Sharif told me. Later on, he returned to the goal of unlimited capacity: "The amount of processing power on the server side plus the lower cost of the networking by virtue of commodity hardware makes it possible for you to assume that the networking pipes are effectively infinite."
Marcellin, meanwhile, likened the software defined network to a car. "If you have a Ferrari body or outer shell but you have a Yugo engine, you're not going to get performance," he said. He, too, returned to this talking point later in the conversation: "If your need is to have high performance in the cloud environment, you need to make sure your engine is high performance."
Near-infinite capacity and roaring performance are, of course, admirable goals. The question, however, is whether they're goals that align with your organization's needs. As Marcellin himself admitted, "Not every single enterprise needs super high performance." Those that do, like cloud service providers and enterprises with significant cloud buildouts in their own datacenters, should absolutely pay close attention to the SDN landscape. Other organizations should think carefully about whether they even need the performance boost of which SDN is capable.
SDN Sounds Wonderful on Paper
The same goes for SDN's other much-lauded benefits, such as agility, flexibility, and speedy provisioning. All those things sound wonderful on paper (or on the screen), but that doesn't mean that every organization needs them, or would even gain a significant competitive advantage or operational improvement from them.
IT must work in concert with the business as a whole and make its proposals and decisions based on the big picture of the business it supports. In some cases, disappointing as it might be, the promise of SDN won't fit what the business needs right now or in the foreseeable future—at least not as things currently stand. The same goes for any other exciting, emerging new technology.
What trending innovations are you taking seriously, and which ones have you decided just don't fit your organization's needs? Share your thoughts in the comments.
This article was originally published on August 18, 2014
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