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The SDN transition: Understanding SDN vendors, concepts and challenges

Last updated:January 2014

Editor's note

Software-defined networking is leading to major changes in every part of the network. Using a centralized, highly programmable model that separates the control and data planes from the underlying infrastructure, SDN allows for more granular and automated network management. However, the transition to this type of network can be daunting. From understanding the effects on network staff to operational requirements to vendor selection, the move to SDN takes time and preparation. In this guide, SDN expert Ethan Banks breaks down the transition, detailing how to approach SDN vendors, evaluate SDN platforms and understand the core concepts of software-defined networking. 

1What's necessary in a software-defined network?

Enterprise network engineers with highly virtualized data centers have begun to face the same application deployment challenges that cloud providers do: the need for more automation, rapid deployment and more granular configurations. Orchestration tools offer a solution, but while full SDN orchestration software hasn't become commercially available yet, network vendors are partnering with other types of IT vendors to produce controllers that meet some of these challenges. With network orchestration, as well as centralized control and programmability, the goal is to eventually create an environment that supports network virtualization.

2What to consider before selecting an SDN platform

Before committing to a specific SDN platform, it's essential to understand your operational needs thoroughly so that you can communicate them to vendors. That means rallying behind lead engineers who know the IT operations in and out. Once you determine what your organization hopes to gain from SDN, a vendor will be forced to respond with products that address your specific needs.

3Quiz your SDN vendor before committing

Picking an SDN product suite is a challenging task for many networking professionals, so buyers need to assess what each SDN vendor offers. But what should you ask? Find out with this list of 14 questions to pose to prospective SDN vendors and learn how the answer to each of these questions should influence your buying decision.

4Who's who in the world of SDN

From SDN startups to entrenched networking giants, vendors are offering a wide array of SDN products. And in such a nascent market, it's hard to track how many SDN vendors are out there. Once you've determined your operational needs, take a look at this list of 42 vendors that offer some form of an SDN platform.

5Don't dismiss startups when considering an SDN platform

Like any new market, software-defined networking has been infiltrated by a number of startup companies that have promising technology. Although there may be comfort in selecting a well-known vendor, it's harder for these incumbents to innovate because they are often weighed down by corporate bureaucracy. Startups that specialize in SDN have the freedom to think about networking in unusual ways, leading to new and different products.

6How will SDN affect your networking staff?

SDN will change the role of many network professionals, especially those engineers who haven't delved much into newer technologies. But even for cloud- and virtualization-savvy networking pros, SDN still won't seem simple; it puts a complex layer of abstraction on top of a complex network in hopes of creating a simpler interface. Any organization looking seriously at SDN will need to carefully think about how it will affect networking staff and IT operations.