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What's the Killer App for Software Defined Networking?

Some basic questions about SDN technology

Long, long ago, in a Data Center far, far away, I used to consider myself reasonably knowledgeable in the ways of networking. Somewhere on a dusty bookshelf or the bottom of a packing box is a remind that I once held Cisco CCIE #3077. And I was even once semi-knowledgeable about a significant transition from a function that was hardware-centric to one that led a revolution to software-centric productivity.



But even as I spend more time trying to grasp  Software Defined Networking  (SDN), talking with some of the smartest people in the industry, I find myself still left with some very basic questions that I haven't seen answered yet. So I'm just going to make a list, with the hope that those more in the know might provide answers via links or comments in this blog. The Packet Pushers podcast touched on some of these, but I don't believe answers emerged.

Plenty has been written about the potential economic impacts (both to customers and vendors/suppliers) of more open networking equipment. Considering the size of the market for networking hardware ($50B+) and the incumbent vendors involved, I can understand the focus. But it seems strange (to me at least) that we have so many open technology questions.

I'm going to try and group these into categories that span from greenfield environments to large legacy environments, so I can better understand how to get from here to there.

Use-Cases or Killer Apps

When Software-Defined Telephony (a.k.a. - VoIP / IP PBX) first came out, the immediate killer-app was Toll-Bypass, significantly reducing long-distance changes. Simplified MACs (Moves/Adds/Changes) was another OPEX selling point. Even reduced cabling to desktops was an ROI point of consideration. The future promised new IP-based collaboration apps, but that took 5+ years to materialize.

When server virtualization emerged, if offered the ability to significantly reduce the cost of under utilized servers (rack space, network ports, power, etc.). It was the foundation of future IT-as-a-Service evolutions (of "Private Cloud / Hybrid Cloud"), but it offered ROI of just a few months in many cases.

So what's the initial, simple to understand and broadly applicable killer-app for SDN?

More Stories By Brian Gracely

A 20 year technology veteran, Brian Gracely is VP of product management at Virtustream. He holds a CCIE #3077 and an MBA from Wake Forest University.

Throughout his career Brian has led Cisco, NetApp, EMC and Virtustream into emerging markets and through technology transitions. An active participant in the virtualization and cloud computing communities, his industry viewpoints and writing can also be found on Twitter @bgracely, on his blog Clouds of Change and his podcast The Cloudcast (.net). He is a VMware vExpert and was named a "Top 100" Cloud Computing blogger by Cloud Computing Journal.

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