Avoiding Vendor Lock-in to Maximize the Value of SDN

Proprietary network architectures and Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) brought to the table functionality that was foundational in enabling the development of the Internet. However, for a number of reasons, a more open and standards-driven approach to networking is necessary in the cloud and digital transformation era – leading to the rise of “software-defined networking,” or SDN (clarification around what constitutes SDN can be found in Storage Switzerland’s recent blog, “Defining SDN in the Open Networking Era”).

Capex savings through the usage of commoditized network hardware is commonly associated with SDN, and organizations do indeed stand to save substantially through adopting “white box” or “brite box” switches based on general purpose silicon, as discussed in a previous Storage Switzerland blog, “Understanding White Box Networking and Open Network Operating Systems.” That being established, feedback from network infrastructure buyers on a recent Storage Switzerland webinar with Pluribus Networks indicates that the SDN value proposition extends far beyond capex cutting; more than 60% of webinar attendees indicated that their interest in SDN is driven primarily by the desire to break free from vendor lock in.

Minimizing vendor lock-in has become important due to the degree and pace of network transformation that is required to keep up with business modernization. The data-driven and cloud-delivered applications that are mission-critical to modern businesses require a network architecture that is more agile, that can keep pace with rapidly accelerating storage performance, and that can accommodate shifting security and compliance paradigms. IT is pressured to adapt as quickly as possible, to serve these applications as effectively as possible.

Legacy networking innovation and standards were developed by a smaller ecosystem of vendors. As a result, innovation occurred over the span of years, and these vendors were able to charge a premium for end-to-end solution sets. Against the backdrop of digital transformation, innovation must be accelerated, and it must be more collaborative among vendors.

One size no longer fits all as infrastructure becomes tailored for specific applications. Meanwhile, data center convergence and the shift to new architectures, such as microservices, shift where value-add innovation occurs and create the need for closer collaboration across the stack (for instance, between SDN and hyperconverged software vendors). Furthermore, customers require increased choice and a lower-cost infrastructure model. The development of open and common standards can help to balance choice, flexibility, time-to-market and security.

Introducing programmability into the network and abstracting control and other functionality through a software-driven approach is needed to mitigate hardware vendor lock-in. When adopting such an approach, it is important for IT professionals to select the correct network operating system to maximize cost-effectiveness while avoiding challenges around system integration and network availability.

A “controller-less” approach in which control functions are built into switches that are federated together to build a management fabric should be considered to avoid a single point of failure, accelerate a return to availability in the event of a failure event, and to maximize the ability of the network to accommodate geographically dispersed data centers.

Access Storage Switzerland’s webinar in collaboration with Pluribus Networks to learn more about why software matters in open networking environments.

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Senior Analyst, Krista Macomber produces analyst commentary and contributes to a range of client deliverables including white papers, webinars and videos for Storage Switzerland. She has a decade of experience covering all things storage, data center and cloud infrastructure, including: technology and vendor portfolio developments; customer buying behavior trends; and vendor ecosystems, go-to-market positioning, and business models. Her previous experience includes leading the IT infrastructure practice of analyst firm Technology Business Research, and leading market intelligence initiatives for media company TechTarget.

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