Complexity Concerns Temper SDN’s Promise According to Packet Design Survey

Perceived benefits propelling adoption but management issues worry service providers

MPLS/SDN 2013 International Conference, WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nov. 20, 2013 – Network service providers are buying into software defined networking (SDN) benefits but are troubled by the management challenges, according to a survey conducted by Packet Design yesterday. More than 100 organizations – nearly half comprised of service providers – weighed in on SDN adoption, business drivers, and concerns during the 16th annual MPLS/SDN International Conference in Washington, D.C.

Nearly All Examining or Deploying SDN

Almost 90 percent of organizations surveyed are exploring SDN in some way, with:

62 percent either researching or prototyping SDN;
19 percent with some production deployment;and another
8 percent planning to implement production SDN in either 2014 or 2015.
Only 11 percent said they have no current SDN plans.

Main Drivers Include New Services, Business Agility

Nearly half of survey respondents (43 percent) said the main business driver behind SDN in their organizations is supporting new services such as cloud, big data applications, and mobility. More than 26 percent consider increasing business agility (including responding faster to new network demands) the number one driver. Improving productivity (better network availability and performance for customers/users) is the biggest reason for 14 percent of respondents. Another 13 percent said reducing operational expenditures is their top motivator for SDN, while only four percent indicated it is reducing capital expenditures.

SDN Complexity Is Top Concern

SDN complexity is the number one concern for service providers (57 percent). Interestingly, despite the work by standards bodies and SDN consortia to create open source controllers and APIs, 26 percent of the survey respondents listed vendor lock-in as a major concern. Other concerns cited include cost to implement (25 percent) and lack of management visibility (21 percent). More than 10 percent said there is not enough benefit from SDN for the effort and cost. (The total exceeds 100 percent because respondents were able to list more than one concern).

Majority Skeptical about Existing Management Tools

Given the concern over complexity, it is not surprising that most respondents are skeptical about their current management tools and processes being adaptable to SDN. Fully 71 percent said that some of their existing management tools will not work with SDN, and 84 percent stated that SDN creates new management challenges that require new tools. Less than half (48 percent) believe that SDN will reduce the number of management tools they need, while only 34 percent are depending upon their network equipment vendor(s) to supply the SDN management tools they need. “The survey shows that while SDN holds great promise for service providers, who are early adopters, it also introduces complexity and new management challenges, especially across the routed network,” said Steve Harriman, senior vice president of marketing for Packet Design. “Traditional management and device-centric methods and tools will be inadequate in a programmable network that automatically adapts to application demands. A new breed of technology offering real-time intelligence is needed to govern whether or not these programmatic changes can and should be made, and what their impact will be on service delivery across the wide area network.”

For more information about SDN management challenges:

  • Watch the video “SDN: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” with Jim Frey, Vice President of Research, Enterprise Management Associates, and Cengiz Alaettinoglu, Packet Design CTO:
  • Download the “Software Defined Networking” white paper: