Does SDN exist or is it just another meaningless acronym?
“An expert is someone who knows one more acronym than you”
May 4, 2018 in
Under pressure from our marketing team to write a blog about a hot IT topic, I began thinking why Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) are so commonly used in the IT industry. The most obvious answer is that they just save time and, when the meaning is well known they are a useful short hand. Marketing and linguistic experts will also tell you of the power of “three” and the importance of the rhythm they create that fixes them in our memory. They are an important tool in IT marketing but too often they appear to have been created to generate hype rather than clarity. In many cases it seems as if the technology itself, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, doesn’t really exist at all as a defined “thing” with a consensus on what it is! Like the Emperors courtiers, are we are all too scared of appearing stupid to point it out? SDN (Software Defined Networking) has been around for a few years now and there are many products on the market. If you can buy it, it is more than an acronym with real meaning, isn’t it?
New technology is expensive to develop, and market, and a lot of money has been invested by customers building expensive infrastructure. If you want to sell new infrastructure and encourage enterprises to throw away their existing investment you have to make big claims about revolutionary technology. You need a simple business message that the “execs” get and you need lots of TLAs so the consultants can impress the “execs” and encourage them to spend more money on consultancy fees to help them make the “right” decision and buy CISCO! Of course many “execs” are like most of us and don’t want to appear stupid so they don’t question the meaning of the TLAs or the paid-for-advice. To be an “expert” you need credibility and language is one of the tools you have with which to build it. TLAs feed into this need and so vendor marketing teams and consultants love them!
However the reality is that SDN, like nearly all technology, is evolutionary not revolutionary. SDN isn’t going to replace your proprietary switched network any time soon. Separating the control and data plane and imposing centralised software control on network traffic may resolve some issues but it will create others. Even calling it Software Defined seems like a misnomer; as if your proprietary switched network isn’t dependent on software!
Have the marketers made a mistake with SDN? By making it appear more revolutionary than it really is and claiming a new acronym for what is really an evolution in technology have they put off investment? In fact a lot of technology that carries the SDN acronym doesn’t meet the original definition at all and has nothing to do with separation of the control and data plane. The acronym is now applied to a wider range of network automation technology to give it the buzzy acronym kudos that confuses and makes us fear appearing stupid. Which brings us back to the question does SDN exist as anything other than a meaningless acronym? If it can’t be accurately defined does it have meaning or purpose? That’s not to say that technology labeled as SDN isn’t useful, just that labeling technology as SDN isn’t useful! If SDN products solve a problem for you then they may well provide a good return on investment. As always the technology itself is important, but it’s the people who support that technology who make the difference between a white elephant and a successful project. Choosing the best technology partner is more important than choosing the best technology. At least that’s what our customers tell us!
This blog post has been written by Steve Bailey in