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IBM innovation centers give enterprises a dry run with SDN technology

As enterprise interest in SDN grows, new IBM innovation centers allow businesses to test SDN technology from a variety of vendors.

IBM has introduced two Network Innovation Centers that will allow enterprises and service providers to test software-defined networking technologies in an educational setting.

Some service providers are already working with software-defined networking (SDN) technology in their environments, but enterprises have been slower on the uptake. However, many enterprises are starting to test SDN on a small scale, with more enterprises indicating they will be evaluating it within the next twelve months, said 451 Research analyst Jennifer Pigg Clark.

The two latest IBM centers, located in Dallas and Nice, France, are already attracting many enterprises curious about what SDN could do for their environments, Clark said.

"Enterprises need a test-bed environment that allows them to kick the tires with the technology and their own workloads, and get an idea of how it will perform without jeopardizing their own production data centers," she said.

What the IBM centers can do for the enterprise

IBM clients can test a combination of SDN technologies, including physical appliances and controllers, as well as virtualized software functions running on compute platforms and servers. SDN products from companies like Brocade, Cisco, VMware and Juniper Networks, as well as IBM's own technology, will be represented at the centers.

On-site, clients can bring their own workloads to model or issues to solve, Rick Qualman, vice president for IBM's Global Technology Services organization, said. For example, enterprises looking to manage network resources better while saving money can test how SDN could help accomplish this goal.

"A lot of enterprise workloads are mixed," Qualman said. "[Businesses] with large VMware implementations, for example, are looking at virtualizing network infrastructure and need to know how VMware's NSX would work with Juniper Contrail."

Clients will also benefit from IBM's expertise. IBM staff will help model workloads, commission and configure the vendor equipment needed, and run the tests. The centers can also be accessed remotely, and clients can monitor and run tests with IBM staff from their own offices, too, Qualman said.

Enterprises may have their own testing lab, but IT teams typically aren't well-versed in SDN technology.

"Enterprises will benefit from being surrounded by knowledgeable personnel, both IBM and representatives from the other vendors at these centers, who know the ins and outs of the software," Clark said.

Clients don't necessarily need to have IBM gear within their environments to take advantage of the centers, Qualman said. Clients will be charged based on their use of the tools. The list of vendor technology included in the centers is expected to grow based on customer requirements, he said.

IBM centers could help SDN roadmap

IBM sold off its top-of-rack switching portfolio to Lenovo in 2014. The sale sparked speculation that IBM was looking to sell its SDN business, but the centers demonstrate the company remains committed to the market.

The centers may help IBM better understand what enterprises need from SDN, Clark said. Regardless of what Big Blue chooses to do about its own SDN product portfolio, its services division has to keep abreast of SDN trends to remain relevant, she said.

"IBM is going to learn from enterprise and service provider customers. These centers are a way for them to get back into the middle of what is going on with SDN," she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, senior news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter. 

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