Key recommendations for SDN IT buyers

Software defined networking (SDN) offers significant opportunities and challenges for enterprise IT professionals. SDN has the potential to make networks more flexible, reduce the time to provision the network, improve quality of service, reduce operational costs, and make networks more secure.

The challenge for IT professionals is to select the right SDN offering for the right technology use case at the right time. These 12 recommendations provide enterprise IT managers a framework to evaluate SDN products from the multitude of SDN suppliers.

[ IN THE NEWS: Cisco Catalyst marries wired, wireless and SDN in one switch ]

1. Have a clear vision about how SDN technology will benefit your shop, including its impact on legacy network infrastructure. Plan for how SDN will impact your overall network architecture in the longer term.

2. It is very early days for SDN -- the market, standards and technology will evolve. IT buyers need to pilot SDN and evaluate the SDN carefully before committing to a specific SDN architecture.

3. Evaluate the impact of SDN on your IT organization. Does SDN offer opportunities to create cross-functional teams (e.g., server, storage and networking) to address data center or cloud networking requirements?

4. Think about SDN implementation challenges. Many SDN offerings today are incomplete or require extensive customization -- who will help you with the SDN installation (e.g., channel partners or professional services firms)? Do you have the existing SDN skill set in your IT organization or is additional training needed (likely)?

5. Identify a specific initial use case for SDN. For example, reducing the time to provision network security to new (or migrating) VMs? Or, facilitating quality of service guarantees across your private WAN (e.g., data center to data center).

6. Think about the potential impact of SDN on your operational costs. Does the SDN solution under consideration have strong management tools? How about the ease of installation and ongoing management costs?

7. Support for legacy networks. How well does the SDN offering support your installed base of legacy Ethernet switches and routers? What is the migration plan going forward for SDN?

8. Think about SDN in business value terms. How does a specific SDN product reduce your costs or benefit IT operations? SDN should not be just about technology.

9. Security. Improved network security is a critical potential benefit of SDN. Does the SDN offering under consideration improve security or does it create additional security challenges (or both)?

10. Standards support. Does the SDN offer support a wide range of industry standards, for both networking (e.g., OpenFlow) and IT (e.g., a range of server virtualization products)?


11. Layer 4-7 support. Your new SDN architecture should leverage networking capabilities at Layer 4-7, including server load balancing and WAN optimization products.

12. Application ecosystem. SDN is about creating an open environment for new applications that leverage SDN technologies. Ability to leverage a broad application ecosystem of management, security and Layer 4-7 applications will be essential to the long-term success of your SDN deployment. 

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research. Doyle Research provides targeted analysis on the Evolution of Intelligent Networks: SDN, OPEX and COTS. Lee Doyle has over 28 years experience analyzing the IT, network and telecom markets. For more information please see, email me at, and follow me on Twitter @leedoyle_dc.

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