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On Reddit, network pros say 'hell, no!' to SDN investment

Let's face it: It'll be a while until we see widespread SDN investment. On this Reddit thread, network engineers demand an end to crappy marketing jargon, and tell vendors what they really need from SDN.

We asked tech writer David Geer to seek network engineers on Reddit who might comment on why they're not ready for SDN investment. What we got was a Reddit-style firestorm of snarky comments -- peppered with some actual insights into what network engineers really want from SDN.

Geer started the thread with the following question:

"Now that SDN is actually being productized, what do regular, everyday network engineers, network managers and admins at large enterprises (not supersized companies) need from SDN in the coming 12 to 24 months before they get serious about trying it?"

The first response seemed a lot like the words of -- well, not a real, live working network engineer:

"It needs synergy and more cloud options, coupled with a dynamic infrastructure that is capable of a self-healing and continual performance optimization through the use of strategy synergy. This should enhance corporate life through the bonding of a strong commitment to quality."

That jargon sent Reddit's cynical network engineers into a tizzy.

"As soon as I read the word synergy, I knew instantly that the rest of this post was complete horseshit," wrote one responder.

That made me literally laugh out loud (LLOL). A bunch more amusing snark followed, but then, finally came this:

Engineers want SDN to make their infrastructure cheaper -- but is that possible?

Some real talk ensued:

"I need SDN to make my hardware cheaper. Until then, not much use for me."

Another commenter agreed:

"Make my gear cheaper and while you are at it, make my provisioning systems cleaner and cheaper."

And then, of course, a vendor chimes in (but at least he's honest):

"What's your price point? Ever look at white box switches? I work for Cumulus, so I am biased, but when you buy white box, you can boot into multiple operating systems like a server."

And our reporter inquires more about SDN making networks more cost effective.

"Do you mean by enabling you to use any hardware so you can get vendors to compete for your business? Is that how you hope SDN will make your hardware cheaper? Or do you mean cheaper to support?"

And later a response from Cumulus:

"Cumulus Networks provides the means for SDN (overlays, network virtualization and automation). We are the underlay and support structure for the Google-type data centers; for the enterprise, we are the 'underlay' and physical switches."

SDN is not new, and engineers like traditional networks anyway

Finally, an engineer enters the conversation with something that few SDN-heads like to hear -- he likes his traditional networking.

"The term SDN has been hijacked by the industry to be less about SDN and more about saying vendor X is already doing SDN by claiming that device management APIs are SDN. In that case, I'm hipster network engineer because I've been doing SDN since before SDN was cool (writing libraries and tools to manage network device configurations on demand). You might be thinking, 'But you can make your own protocol and control traffic flow with software.' I really don't care about that. Neither do most network engineers. The existing protocols work better and faster, and I don't have any traffic flow challenges that SDN is needed to address. At the end of the day, most of the people talking about SDN are ultimately system administrators who think they've come up with a cool new way to do something that's been a protocol they don't understand for 20 years.

What we really need is configuration management and mapping!

Many believe SDN is ultimately about automation and management, and one engineer on the thread wants to know more:

"OK, serious question. Can SDN make automated, and good, network diagrams? That would make me get so serious about it in the coming 12 to 24 months."

But the answers don't look positive.

"LLDP[Link Layer Discovery Protocol] can, it's not rocket science or complex."

The next respondent is no more excited about SDN:

"No, it can't. You can have automated diagrams but they will look like sh*%t. LLDP won't help you make GOOD diagrams."

And then, one who's a bit more hopeful:

"No -- but with the right thinking, then we (i.e., networkers) should be able to come up with something where the documentation and the config are one and the same. Some facets of SDN -- like the fact that it treats the network as a network rather than a series of individual devices can help drive this."

And finally someone comes up with a funny, but very real message about SDN:

"I'm not witty enough to have a clever response on the drop of a dime (give me another 20 years of post-work drinking to develop my cynicism) – so, I will output the most honest answer I have: Automation of provisioning. Point-and-click network-side provisioning of circuits. Additionally, auto provisioning of CPE [customer premises equipment]/PE [provider edge]/NID [network interface device] devices. The business case is reduced Opex due to less network grease monkeys on staff doing these tasks.

And then another response about management, switching and cost efficiency:

"What i want is Netflow everywhere. I hate SNMP and miss being in a 100% CDP environment. Cisco definitely spoiled me.

I'm happy with most L3 switches on price/performance, but the access level is where we burn too much cash. We can't get the features we need (at all), and get charged for a bunch of stuff we don't want. Since we have many, many more access than distro, it's a big focus here. We'll buy a new core every 5 to 10 years due to growth, not [for new] features, and generally don't even look at the price (if we need we need it), but we churn through access switches like crazy because of expansion and moves.

I want something rock-solid with extremely low overhead and zero ongoing fees that has extremely robust monitoring and management abilities. Right now, Ubiquiti's switch line is about the only vendor I am seeing that comes close. I don't think anyone really wants the low end of the business, unfortunately.

We abandoned standard switches in the DC and have moved to used Infiniband gear from Mellanox. Incredible performance for next to nothing and it's simple.

SDN has to be about more than the data center

SDN has been so focused on the data center, but we've been hearing for years that engineers want more. That was also reflected in this Reddit thread.

"I think the problem here is when people start talking about, and in fact designing, SDN, they have this narrow view that our networks are just limited to the data center. This is all about data center. While I agree that SDN has the potential ability to redefine how data center networking functions, you can't build and design an automated networking platform by leaving out the rest of us. I understand that the general idea is the ability to quickly and efficiently provision new application services and have the network build itself around that appropriately, but there are many other networks that can benefit from this idea that are equally as applicable and valuable to customers today."

There's plenty more to read -- and even some really good comments to learn from. Read the rest of this Reddit thread.

Writer David Geer was able to get a few IT leaders to explain more deeply what they'll need to see in SDN technology before they can invest. Read that feature.

Next Steps

Why NSX and Nexus 9000 forecasts don't matter

Understanding SDN basics

Five open source SDN controllers

This was last published in October 2014

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