SDN automation and business value are cornerstones of programmability

Interop keynote panelists tackled the importance of SDN automation and abstraction, as well as common challenges regarding SDN deployment.

LAS VEGAS -- SDN is finally moving beyond the pieces and parts, and it's time for network pros to look at SDN automation, abstraction, and practical methods of deployment.

That was an overarching theme at this morning's Interop SDN keynote panel. Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research, sat down with Arpit Joshipura, VP of product strategy at Dell Networking; Steve Shah, senior director of product management at Citrix; and Dominic Wilde, vice president of global product line at HP Networking, to discuss the business side of software-defined networking.

The industry has moved beyond vendor fragmentation -- for the most part -- and is starting to see real deployments of SDN, Joshipura said. "Real customers are solving real business problems, and the network is getting the automation it deserved in the first place," he added.

It's about doing things better and differently, said Wilde, particularly when it comes to automation and abstraction. It's important to automate tasks that require operational investment, he said. "The other important part people miss is abstraction; abstracting the complexity of the network and defining a new control surface for the network that's simpler."

Three roads to SDN implementation

The conversation moved to practical deployments of SDN and how to decide what's right for your organization. Joshipura outlined three ways to get to SDN: the proprietary way of taking what a company already has, opening it, and calling it SDN; not touching the physical network and doing SDN within an overlay; and using only a protocol or standard based on open source. "The fragmentation of how to get there is a challenge we need to address," Joshipura said. "We need to give customers a choice on the path of migration."

There are stumbling blocks that many are still facing, though, on their migration to SDN. Organizationally, determining who's in charge can be a challenge. "How do you organizationally separate but collaborate?" Joshipura said. There is also a standard stumbling block regarding the northbound interface. And lastly, if we keep investing in new protocols, we're only creating new "mouse traps," Joshipura said. This morning at Interop, Cisco announced its own southbound SDN protocol that will rival OpenFlow.

Network pros need SDN training, and vendors must simplify

The panel also touched on SDN training. Joshipura argued that programming skills will be key. "We need the network to be programmed, not provisioned," he said. "That will be a fundamental change in the next five years."

Not everyone agrees that SDN should force every engineer to become a programmer. "We all need to be programmers? That's not true. A number of enterprises will go in and do applications and codes, and that's great. A majority of enterprises, though, we're scaring them," Wilde said.

Instead, Wilde argued that vendors need to be developing tools that will simplify services. "[We need] solutions that deploy SDN applications and get capabilities without the programming skills. You don't need to be a programmer. We're trying to simplify things for you. It's about creating a paradigm that says, 'I can take business policy and apply it to the network without having a layer of middleware.'"

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