Sometime around 1983, industry pundits without fail would declare that the “Year of the LAN” was upon us. A decade later and most organizations were still getting around to deploying their first LAN. The same glacial pace of adoption appears to be playing out now with software-defined networks (SDNs).

A survey of 165 senior IT leaders conducted by Longitude, a unit of the Financial Times, on behalf of Verizon finds only 15 percent of companies surveyed are either piloting or have already deployed SDN technologies. That number is set to rise to 57 percent within the next two years. But only 12 percent say they expect to have deployed SDN throughout their entire organization in that time frame. Just only under a third (31 percent), say they will have deployed SDN technologies in the next three to five years.

In theory, the primary driver of SDN adoption is the need for IT to be able to more agilely respond to the changing needs of the business. Today it takes a few minutes to spin up a virtual machine. Provisioning the networking resources required to support that virtual machine, however, can take anywhere from days to weeks.

The top reasons cited by survey participants for adopting SDNs are increased network security (56 percent), application performance (50 percent), need for greater network scale (49 percent), network resilience (48 percent), achieve a competitive edge (44 percent), and deploy services to lines of business faster (44 percent).

The slow, but steady transition to SDNs

As compelling as those benefits are, however, it would appear most organizations are not in any hurry to modernize their networks. Today most networks are managed via a command line interface (CLI) that requires a network administrator to log into individually into each router and switch to configure them. SDNs provide a control plane through which the management of router and switches can be automated. SDNs as a technology have matured to the point where they are now deployable at scale. But clearly the cultural challenges associated with making that transition remain considerable.

Anuj Dutia, senior manager product and new business for Verizon, says the survey makes it clear the transition to SDNs will be slow, but steady.

“The speed at which they deploy these services is not of supreme importance,” says Dutia.

In fact, Dutia says it’s clear networks will be made up of both SDNs and traditional physical underlays for years to come, largely because organizations have become adept at managing the physical underlay. Although there is a plethora of SDN education resources available, most organizations still don’t have the skills required to deploy and manage SDNs.

The MSP opportunity

SDNs still represent a major opportunity for managed service providers (MSPs), many of which will implement SDN technologies to deliver services long before their customers. The truth of that matter is that when it comes to networking most organizations are resistant to change. The only real source of pressure is the rate at which organizations want to be able to deploy applications, which means there’s a probable correlation between organizations that are implementing SDNs and embracing DevOps.

Savvy MSPs would wise to expose customers to how they manage their networks. SDNs are one of those technology transitions that requires IT professionals to have some hands-on experience before they fully appreciate the benefits. But once they do, they rarely ever decide that the tools developed close to four decades ago to manage networks still work just fine.

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Photo:  basiczto / Shutterstock.

Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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