The average IT user is still pretty much in the dark about what programmable networks can do, so networking integrator Dimension Data is building a consultancy that will offer networking pros SDN training before trying to sell them SDN products.
With its new "Software-Defined Networking Development Model" training services, Dimension Data will spend a couple of weeks on site with clients to explain software defined network (SDN) and help enterprises figure out which version of the technology will work for them.
Most of Dimension Data's clients are simply confused by the starkly different SDN strategies that vendors are articulating.
"We are giving them a wider perspective than a network virtualization or a hardware vendor. We are giving them an overall perspective … and some independent direction," said Gary Middleton, business development director at Dimension Data.
Dimension Data will address SDN training through "four lenses": how SDN will change networks and their surrounding infrastructure; the role of orchestration and automation in programmable networks; the need for IT organizations to change structure and help employees find new skills; and finally a look at how specific SDN strategies can align with business goals.
No vendor has a winning SDN story, Dimension Data says
At the end of the day, Dimension Data is a systems integrator, so it earns money largely by selling technology from major vendors. The problem is, the education phase before sales begin could go on for a while -- Dimension Data is nowhere near ready to "call" an SDN winner.
"I am not convinced at this stage that anyone has a compelling enough story to encourage customers to move," said Middleton. "They [customers] are likely to wait until Cisco has a compelling story to tell before deploying. And the same thing goes for HP and Juniper. We have yet to see a client say, 'I am going to drop Cisco for HP SDN.'"
SDN training will start in the data center, but move to the WAN
In the data center, Dimension Data suspects users will turn first to network overlays, though in the WAN, they'll look for a deeper level of SDN that will change the underlying network.
In either case, users will begin by using SDN for very specific applications -- access control, for example. If that works, they'll expand their use. Even Google -- known for the widest SDN implementation -- sought the technology for very specific purposes and is slowly expanding use over time, Middleton said.
Customers are not ready for white box switches, open source networking
Depending on how you look at it, open source networking and white box switching could be a boon or a bust for systems integrators. On one hand, when customers invest in open technologies, they may look to integrators for implementation and support. On the other hand, those integrators will lose the big margins they earn by selling more costly, proprietary technology.
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Dimension Data's Middleton is clear that this early SDN training is about positioning for future sales, but he also says customers simply aren't ready to embrace open source networking solutions and white box switching.
"We will certainly have a discussion about open source and OpenDaylight and the white label switches. But we have had white label servers available for many years and when we approach enterprise clients, the majority of them have brand name servers in their environments based upon maintenance services and confidence in the brand. When you start looking at [open source networking], a similar approach applies."
Educating the educators in SDN
SDN skills are clearly not easy to come by, so Dimension Data had to do plenty of internal training before it could begin to build a channel or consultancy.
"We have a multi-function approach to that," said Middleton. Dimension Data has built five labs across geographies to get its own workforce "playing" with SDN. In the meantime, its HR department is seeking network engineers with new sets of skills, such as network automation, Middleton explained.
"By no means is this done -- this is a journey for us and we are only at the start of it," he said.