Software-defined networking has generated a great deal of interest among enterprise users and telecom companies in particular. The ability to dynamically manage network traffic in real time could lead to many benefits for service providers looking to differentiate their offerings to potential customers. With SDN, telecom operators could create tiered service plans that allow them to divert more resources to users who have paid a premium for more access to network resources. Given the competitive state of today’s telecom industry, such services may help an organization stand out against the crowd and bring in new clients who are willing to pay a little extra for better service.
That being said, there’s an avalanche of misinformation and confusion out there just waiting to bury enterprise leaders who want to delve deeper into the world of SDN. As Forbes contributor Howard Baldwin noted, the very idea of SDN can be defined differently by disparate companies or even within a single organization, leading to even more uncertainty regarding the logistics of incorporating the technology. Opinions vary on this topic, with Baldwin citing many sources, all of whom present different outlooks on the feasibility of leveraging SDN in current enterprise infrastructures.
For his part, Baldwin appears to take up sides with the contingent that sees SDN as an investment for the future with minimal applications in the present. According to a number of the industry observers he cited, the technology for wide-scale SDN deployment just isn’t there. The tools needed to successfully implement SDN have yet to be released on an enterprise scale, meaning it could take a few years for businesses and component providers to align supply with demand. It should also be noted that the personnel telecoms and other companies have on staff at the moment may not be prepared to completely take advantage of SDN technology. Quoting Forrester analyst Andre Kindness, Baldwin noted that many businesses will need to infuse their organizations with an influx of talent with the skill and expertise needed to successfully deploy SDN.
Telecom operators face more urgent need for SDN
While the consensus among Baldwin’s chosen sources seems to indicate that businesses would be best served taking a wait-and-see approach to SDN, this argument may not hold water for telecom service providers. Network World Managing Editor Jim Duffy recently explained that traffic-shaping solutions are becoming necessary investments for these organizations. He cited a study from Infonetics which found that the ever-rising interest in cloud applications would help drive demand for SDN. Shaping network traffic and making additional resources available to valued clients will only become more important to service providers in the coming years as the sources of bandwidth drain multiply.
To that end, many of the world’s leading telecom companies have expressed interest in SDN solutions, particularly regarding the OpenFlow SDN protocol. According to Duffy, Verizon Communications’ officials believe OpenFlow can help them standardize their expansive network environments and create a central source for overseeing activity. With an increased capacity to directly manage network resources in real time, the telecom operator could allocate resources to high-traffic areas and alleviate congestion before it fully manifests. This way, the company can better meet demand and keep customers happy with reliable service delivery.