Survey: Software-Defined Networking a Mystery to Potential Adopters

Many networking professionals who are planning to adopt software-defined networking (SDN) are unable to actually define it, according to a new survey.

In Network Instruments' seventh-annual "State of the Network" survey released Tuesday, 22 percent of respondents said they plan to adopt SDN by the end of this year, and 32 percent plan to make the move by the end of 2015. However, when asked to define SDN, close to 40 percent said it was "undefined, like a trip without a map."

"As with any emerging technology, IT management is grappling over the definition of SDN, as well as its benefit and importance to the organization," said Brad Reinboldt, product marketing manager at Network Instruments, part of JDS Uniphase Corp.

"Given the industry's relative infancy, it is expected that the uncertainty will decrease as the technology becomes established, shows its value and is utilized by more businesses," the study said.

[Click on image for larger view.] Twenty-two percent of respondents plan to adopt SDN by year's end. (Source: Network Instruments)

Answers to the question "What is SDN?" were as follows:

  • "Undefined, like a trip without a map" -- 37 percent
  • "Automated provisioning of network resources" -- 34 percent
  • "Replacing tools for network traffic optimization and acceleration with software" -- 24 percent
  • "Shaping network traffic without having physical access to network hardware" -- 23 percent
  • "Orchestrating network traffic across multiple monitoring tools" -- 22 percent

Some attitudes about SDN varied among network engineer respondents and those in management. "Survey results show that SDN is in an early adoption phase, with a skeptical majority of respondents waiting to see how the technology evolves, " the study said. "Twelve percent of responses would be classified as SDN enthusiasts who view the technology as a necessity. Over half of network engineers see the value of SDN, but have decided to take a wait-and-see approach. In contrast, almost half of management has no plans to implement this technology."

When asked the primary reason for adopting SDN, 48 percent replied with "improving ability to dynamically adapt to changes in business demands." In second place was "ability to deliver new services faster" with 40 percent, while "improving ability to provision network infrastructure" and "lowering operating expenses" tied at 38 percent.

Some of the SDN questions "offer seemingly contradictory findings on the surface, but ultimately point to the typical lag between a technology’s promise and translating that into tangible attributes," Network Instruments said.

Other findings in the study, as described by Network Instruments, included:

  • Network bandwidth continues to surge: By 2015, 25 percent of organizations expect their bandwidth demand to grow between 51 percent to 100 percent, while 12 percent predict growth of more than 100 percent.

  • Growing 40Gb adoption: By 2015, 25 percent will have implemented 40Gb data rates in their enterprise networks.

  • Unified communications (UC) have gone mainstream: UC apps have gone mainstream, including videoconferencing, with 63 percent of respondents having implemented it in 2014 compared to only 25 percent in 2009.

  • User experiences with UC are unclear: More than 50 percent of respondents indicated a lack of visibility into the user experience as their top UC management challenge.

  • Application angst: Determining the root-cause of network performance problems was cited as the top application troubleshooting challenge by 74 percent.

This year's study surveyed 241 network professionals via a third-party Web portal. Responses from network engineers, IT directors and CIOs around the world were gathered from Jan. 10 to March 7 of this year. Survey results are available via infographic, video or PDF report

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.