Software-defined networking washing is the new cloud washing

Marketing pros sell every new technology as if it's software-defined networking. But this 'SDN washing' masks true innovation and insults our intelligence.

The other day, an analyst friend of mine used the term "SDN washing." He was referring to the spate of recent networking product releases that were promoted as software-defined networking, but in reality were only loosely related to the technology.

It goes beyond the fact that deceptive marketing is annoying and belittles the intelligence of IT engineers.

The phenomenon, he explained, was annoyingly similar to the so-called cloud washing of a few years ago, when every technology release supposedly had cloud implications. Vendors assured us that their security tools protected apps in the cloud and that their monitoring instruments peered deeply into virtual machines.

Like cloud-washing, SDN washing is not a good path for the industry to take.

Why is it so troubling? It goes beyond the fact that deceptive marketing is annoying and belittles the intelligence of IT engineers. False marketing diverts attention away from true SDN products and their potential. What's more, it masks the real innovation that exists in new products despite the fact that they're not SDN.

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Instead of calling out specific vendors that have made releases, I will point to a few truly innovative technologies that were labeled SDN, but actually do other things. For one, there were quite a few technologies released recently that provide a deeper interface or integration between virtual networks or software overlays and their underlying physical networks. In some cases, these technologies rely on SDN, but in others they don't at all. In another instance, we saw I/O virtualization promoted as SDN. I/O virtualization is indeed a transformative technology that will enable converged storage and cloud networking. While I/O virtualization depends on both software and the network, it's not SDN as we know it.

Meanwhile, we've also seen confusion around network virtualization and SDN. While SDN can be used to create, provision and manage network virtualization, it's not the only way to get there. Network overlays and other forms of network virtualization can be implemented and even integrated with cloud orchestration architectures without using SDN.

I look forward to seeing the evolution of real SDN technology and think it will transform the way engineers design and manage their networks. In the meantime, I'd like to see other innovative technologies get their fair share of the light in their true name. I think we're smart enough to handle it.

This was first published in November 2012

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