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Don't Believe the SDN Under-Hype

Dan O'Shea
10/7/2013

Here's a brief list of things that have been called under-hyped in recent days, according to my own ears:

  • The economic impact of the federal government shutdown
  • The stock prices of several companies, according to the companies themselves
  • Software Defined Networks (SDN)

Believe me when I say I hope SDN is the one thing on that list that actually is under-hyped. However, I fear a new wave of unbridled optimism could result from the belief that SDN is under-hyped, a potentially dangerous thing for a technology so early in its evolution.

When Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) CTO Steve Alexander said during a speech at Interop and Ethernet & SDN Expo last week that SDN is "under-hyped," I was standing at the back of the packed room. (See ESDN: SDN Is Under-Hyped, Says Ciena.)

At the now-famous moment, a few people laughed, though not uproariously. However, several more people nodded in approval, as if they heard something to their liking, a neologism they could deploy later on the show floor, in panel sessions or in business meetings for months to come.

It's the latter group we need to worry about. Technology innovation is inherently exciting. It tends to breed a lot of wonder, optimism, enthusiasm, and a sense of urgency, all of which are fed into a machine that spits out pure hype on the other end. We're all familiar with the disastrous effects of over-hype, but under-hype is arguably the most dangerous kind of hype.

Literally (which is not really how Alexander meant it), it suggests there is just not enough hype, which in tech circles is like a license for lunacy. SDN under-hype didnít last long though -- a few minutes after Alexander's speech was over, we soon began hearing the word pop up all over. By then, the machine was in motion.

It's worth noting that despite the fact the entire industry already was talking about SDN before last week, it was being treated with a tremendous amount of logic and thoughtfulness. Though SDN has been viewed from the beginning as highly transformative, many people I talked to before last week readily admitted they didnít fully understand this technology and all of its implications. There was a refreshing odor of caution around SDN. Now, that refreshing odor might be carried off in the wind.

It's not really Alexander's fault. My read is that he was talking more about SDN's potential bandwidth on-demand applications being under-hyped, not necessarily the general concept of SDN or the size of the dollar sign attached to the market.

Alexander wasn't granting license to forego caution. He was a technologist talking about a technology use case. It was not a signal to call the E-Trade baby and have him invest your life savings in everything and anything associated with SDN, nor was it a suggestion that everything in the network immediately be saturated with SDN.

But, it's too late to stop the hype machine now.

ó Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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Cellco
Cellco
10/9/2013 | 8:59:00 AM
Re: The networking echo chamber can be misleading
@plexxi - good point, quite frankly I think the initial response from the incumbent equipment providers is let the echo chamber proceed, but for now, let's try to make earnings off our existing product lines without and extra 5% of earnings diverted to development.  That being said, now we have this issue where enterprise understands and has latched-on to virtualized routers using a Software rule set on a set of network/application controllers.  They are running with the need in new smaller enterprise companies.  This is causing the incumbent providers and service providers entering the data center environment to respond with WAN enabling infrasturcture. 

The unaware period was almost successful but now the industry is going to be all-over the enterprise infrastructure movement to SDN architecture.  The Hype will be stepped up the next three quarters and I think we might see an evolution of architecture resulting in a lot of legacy equipment with a really muted sales revenue in replacement costs.  Similar to replacing CCS and TDM with Diameter ans Softswitch.  The opposite outcome is RF video vs IPTV where Broadcasters with extreme quality goals, Cable with efficient quality goals and IPTV content mass distribution.  The sweet spot seemed to be Cable equipment models.
sam masud
sam masud
10/8/2013 | 3:01:42 PM
SDN not under-hyped
I don't think SDN is under-hyped if viewed from the perspective of the potential impact it can have up and down all seven layers. SDN's impact on the existing infrastructure will be comparable to how the PC disrupted mainframe computing.
@mbushong
@mbushong
10/8/2013 | 10:37:25 AM
The networking echo chamber can be misleading
I agree with the premise of this post. I think it would be bad if people intentionally tried to ratchet up the hype above what it already is.

I also think that many of the networking people live in a relatively small echo chamber. The blogging community, Twitterverse, and even websites are frequented by a relatively small percentage of the networking population who self-select into the more informed group. We all talk amongst ourselves, debate finer points of technology, and generally make things seem more well known and understood than they are. 

But outside the echo chamber, there is a surprising amount of unawareness. While I think it is getting better over time, I don't think we should assume that the everyman actually knows enough about what is going on. This might not require hype to address, but thoughtful proliferation of the message beyond the major circles is necessary if more than just the most willing are going to make the SDN leap.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)

Plexxi
sterlingperrin
sterlingperrin
10/8/2013 | 9:15:11 AM
Re: hype cycle
Jhodgesk1s: That's true. That's absolutely right!

 

Sterling
Ray@LR
[email protected]
10/8/2013 | 7:50:00 AM
Great blog - everyone's a winner...
Where we are right now, I think you could argue any corner re SDN and not be proven wrong (or right).

 

I do, though, detect a real sense of caution amongst many in the industry, even the vendor marketeers who, in the past, might have been naming their newborns after the latest technology trend. 

I have to say, I do think we will still end up with a hybrid and that will eat into the mountain of potential benefits that pure SDN could bring.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
10/7/2013 | 4:39:15 PM
Re: hype cycle
Good points, Carol. Along those lines, I just received a report from CompTIA suggesting that there isn't enough talent to support operators' big-data plans. It says, "The U.S. will see a shortage of nearly 1.7 million managers and technicians capable of working with big data by 2018."

Big-data is pretty hyped though. Does it need more hype to help with hiring?
jhodgesk1s
jhodgesk1s
10/7/2013 | 4:21:07 PM
Re: hype cycle
Carol, well stated. What's unique about SDN and NFV is that together they will totally redefine the boundaries of next-generation networks as we know them today. Something of that magnitude comes along much less often than an application like VoADSL.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson
10/7/2013 | 3:57:13 PM
Re: hype cycle
The hype cycle is a very necessary part of what a new technology or technological approach needs to take of -- without a hype cycle, resources including time, talent and the all-important cash, are not devoted to whatever the new thing is, enabling it to mature and come to market.

The danger is when the wrong things are hyped and I've been around for a bunch of those. ISDN, SMDS, VoADSL, to name a few.

I think what Steve Alexander means is that we are currently underestimating the impact SDN will have on the networks of the future, and I think he's right. 

As Dan notes, there may be people who think he's calling for more hype - and if by that you mean more attetion, more time, more talent and more cash devoted to getting SDN to market, then I think that's fine. 
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
10/7/2013 | 3:37:24 PM
hype cycle
A lot of technologies in this industry fall victim to the hype cyle -- receive so much praise and huge growth projections and then fail to deliver or take longer than expected. Some ride the wave for awhile before flattening out at being mainstream, if not revolutionary. IMS, WebRTC, mobile commerce, mobile ads, RCS all seem to fall into that category. Calling SDN under-hyped could be reverse psychology here. I hope it doesn't fall victim of the cycle, but agree with what you said about conversations being more practical than most.
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