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SDN Faces a Human Hurdle

Mitch Wagner

LAS VEGAS -- Interop -- People are the main impediment to the introduction of SDN, which requires new skills for network managers and a change in corporate culture, according to speakers on a panel here.

In a world of software-defined networking, network managers need to become software developers, Steve Shah, senior director of product management for Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS), said during the panel session Wednesday. "You need the network to be programmed, not provisioned."

But Dominic Wilde, VP global product line management for HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), disagreed. "This is the fallacy we need to move away from," he said. Businesses should use turnkey solutions to implement SDN -- which, of course, HP and its partners offer.

Another important people-skill for implementing SDN is learning to talk to C-level executives, Wilde said.

"The C-level view of the world is, 'What do I get? I get connectivity? What's the real value that I'm getting from the network and why isn't it getting cheaper?' So you have to change the context of that conversation and be able to say, 'Hey, if I invest in these new technologies that enable my network to be dynamic and responsive versus static and complex, I now have the ability to create new lines of revenue,'" Wilde said.

Another problem: Companies are overwhelmed by difficulties in how to apply SDN principles to their own networks, and require consulting help in making the changes, Wilde said. (By extraordinary coincidence, HP offers just those services, part of several new products and services introduced this week -- see HP Beefs Up Its SDN Portfolio and HP: Here's How We Can Cut WiFi Costs.)

Other SDN stumbling blocks are technical, including too many APIs and protocols, panelists said. (See Goin' South: Cisco Offers 'OpFlex' as Alternative to OpenFlow .)

Despite obstacles, SDN is nearing mainstream, the speakers noted.

"If a grandma can program your DVR, then technology has made it to the masses. That's the state of SDN -- almost, but not quite," said Arpit Joshipura, VP product management and strategy at Dell Networking. Real businesses are deploying SDN at last, leading to cost savings and other business benefits.

Products are here for all layers of the network, Shah said. But automation is still immature

SDN has moved beyond pieces and products, such as controllers and protocols, to full solutions, Wilde said. It's also moved beyond the data center. "The industry got obsessed with SDN being just about virtualization in the data center." Bigger benefits can potentially come from new security models, QoS, and deployment models.

Automating the network and abstracting complexity are major potential benefits, Wilde said. Those are the things that make SDN different from previous technology such as VLANs. Using SDN, businesses can make changes to the network without reconfiguring the underlying topology of the network.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to mwagner@lightreading.com.

SDN and its role in bridging technology and business will be a major theme of Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/8/2014 | 6:37:05 PM
Re: People problems
Steve Shah - When you explain it, that makes sense. Get women more interested in IT and you've increased the potential pool of network managers by double-digits percentage. Not 50 percent because many women are already in IT, but a significant boost. My wild guess is probably 25-40 percent. 

And thanks for joining the discussion! Here, have a tasty snack. 
User Rank: Light Beer
4/7/2014 | 7:27:27 PM
Re: People problems
Hi FakeMitchWatner - Steve Shah here... the panelist in question.

The context of the conversation was around where we're going to hit problems in adoption of SDN and automation was highlighted as an area. In automation, I specifically called out that we're struggling with getting enough developers to the table for IT and I highlighted three pools of talent that we're specifically going to need to address: the current generation of IT professionals who have likely have gone years (if not decades) since their last programming course, educating new talent which means revising our view of what an IT education looks like, and finally, not forgetting the broader problem with women in IT.

You're right, women in IT are not directly connected to SDN.

However, when we talk about our talent pool we need to bear in mind the challenge of getting enough engineers to satisfy our rapidly growing demand. If we continue on our current trendline, we're not going to cut it. Thus, we can't have a conversation about where we are going to get talent from and miss that important demographic.

Hope that clears it up.


ps. I disagree about soylent green having people problems... IIRC, it fixed people problems. We just didn't like the solution.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/7/2014 | 3:03:07 PM
Re: Women
t.bogataj - Citrix's Steve Shah made the comment about the shortage of women in IT being an obstacle to SDN adoption. Like I said, I don't see the connection. Women are underrepresented in all aspects of IT. Why is SDN different?
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/5/2014 | 11:26:09 AM
Re: Women
Mitch, the observation is really interesting. Maybe it is worth seeing if we need to understand better. Sorry to bother you, but can you look the panelist up in your little black book? Thanks.

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/4/2014 | 7:48:09 PM
One of the panelists said one of the people-problems SDN has is that there are too few women in IT.

I said to myself, wait, what? What does one have to do with the other? How is the disproportionate involvement of men in IT a special problem for SDN? It's no different for SDN than any other part of IT. Unless the speaker was arguing women have some special skills at SDN -- like they have at giving birth and breastfeeding -- I don't see the connection. 

I'm not identifying the speaker here out of sheer laziness; I don't have my notes in front of me. If anybody's particularly interested I can look it up. 
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/3/2014 | 2:16:30 PM
People problems
So SDN has people problems. You know what else has people problems? Soylent Green.
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