When you train your mind how to think, you inoculate yourself against those who desperately want to tell you what to think.
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
While I doubt that Dr. Tyson had the networking industry in mind when he tweeted that, he made me think of the countless organizations that make IT decisions based on the recommendations of their favorite vendors. That’s not a sign of institutional weakness. Enterprises can struggle to keep up with rapidly evolving architectural practices and technologies, even within long-established realms. IT staff are often buried just keeping the existing systems running smoothly. Trusted vendors can bring in experts who understand industry trends and can provide valuable guidance on optimizing the network and planning next steps.
Of course, any vendor’s guidance is going to be weighted heavily in favor of their own products and roadmaps, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The vendor has a high stake in retaining your business by maintaining your trust. That’s going to be reflected in the expert advice you get.
But when something comes along that changes the direction of the entire IT industry, all bets are off. SDN and NFV, driven by customer demands for agile orchestration of the network, are doing just that. SDN is moving us to an operational model in which network changes are implemented a the same speed and convenience as compute and storage, while NFV is enabling software – controlled, demand-based provisioning of firewalls, load balancers and APCs, WAN accelerators, and other services on-demand, and on x86 hardware.
In this environment the incumbent player are no more experienced than the many startups coming out of the woodwork. For traditional routing and switching you should trust the Ciscos, Junipers, Brocades, and Aristas. They’ve dominated the routing and switching market for a long time and the maturity of their network operating systems is unquestionable. But when it comes to fundamentally different technologies such as SDN and NVF, they could be just as much a new play as the many startups swarming around that space. SDx Central put it succinctly when they said that you are unlikely to find a 5-year-old SDN deployment. The Johnnie-Come-Latelies might be as good or better in this space than the incumbents due to their narrow market focus. On the other hand, established vendors are far more likely to have the experience and resources to deal with release train scheduling, QA processes, and bug remediation.
How do you decide?
If you’re evaluating SDN solutions in the first place, you’ve already identified the use case (or cases) applicable to your business, such as data center network orchestration or virtualization, automated provisioning, network access control, WAN virtualization, or application flow tapping. There are many more, but most SDN products are suited to only a few use cases, so that narrows your search.
Next is an evaluation of how your business goals and operational models align with your narrowed list of products. That should reduce your list further.
From there, it’s a matter of vendor-neutral technical evaluation, including:
- Integration and deployment into your existing infrastructure, which includes an analysis of supported southbound protocols (OpenFlow, NETCONF, BGP, OVSDB, and others).
- Integration and deployment into your existing orchestration and management systems.
- Supported programming language, such as C++, Java, Python, or Ruby, which can be important if the solution is to integrate with your DevOps culture or you are planning to develop your own SDN applications.
- Support for monitoring and analytics, either as on-board features or as add-ons.
- Whether the SDN controller is a standalone appliance or is installed in a VM or container.
- Feature stability, roadmaps, documentation, ease of deployment and operation.
- Vendor support of open standards such as OpenFlow, OpenDaylight, or ONOS.
The majority of vendors are of course happy to run a POC lab demonstrating how their product meets your business case, often including how it integrates into your network environment. But they are naturally going to put their product in the best light they can. This is where the value of a vendor-neutral SDN/NFV certification shines.
Whether you are looking for an independent evaluation of a specific SDN/NFV product or are doing a best-fit evaluation of a group of products, Fishtech’s Innovation Lab provides the resources and the expertise to help you make the right choice for your business. Further, whether you just want to understand how SDN solutions can benefit your business or whether you need a read-to-execute integration plan, our SDN experts can help you get there.