SDN: Let's get it started

John C. Tanner
telecomasia.net
When it comes to next-gen networking technology buzz, it doesn't get much buzzier than software-defined networking (SDN). There's a lot of talk and a lot of hype, but the concept of SDN - which essentially proposes to separate the data plane from the control plane across network equipment to enable programmable, flexible and efficient networks - is widely touted as the next major transition for telecom networks.
 
However, it's precisely because SDN is a major change in the networking paradigm that telcos are approaching it with caution. Some SDN cheerleaders are urging them to move fast as data traffic soars and demand for cloud-based services escalates. But as usual, that's easier said than done, whether because of conservatism at the board level or the sheer magnitude of the task at hand. Telcos have a lot of legacy infrastructure to shepherd through the transition, and the technology itself is still in the fledgling stage.
  
Put simply, telcos know what's expected of them, but aren't sure where to start, or when. Fortunately, the overall message from vendors we spoke to is potentially reassuring: start when you're ready, and start where SDN is most needed.
  
Just start.
  
Operators get it, but ...
The good news is that, for the most part, telco execs do understand the potential benefits of open, programmable networks - it's just that there's a big gap between understanding the potential value of SDN and actually deploying it.
 
Moreover, how big that gap is depends on a number of factors, starting with the current situation of the telcos themselves, says Houman Modarres, senior director of marketing of Alcatel-Lucent's SDN spinoff Nuage Networks.
 
"The beauty of SDN has been ‘in the eye of the beholder', meaning many things to many people," Modarres says. "That's because not all service providers are starting from the same place, nor are they reaching for the same exact destination."
  
Boonchareon Chong, global senior solution architect for the service provider division of F5 Networks, notes that many Tier 1 operators, for example, see SDN as important enough to dedicate specific teams to research it, "but they do not necessarily know how to adopt it network-wide."
  

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