SDN: A Tale of Two Frogs

I have recently come across an article that references comments from a Cisco survey as claiming you are more apt to see Big Foot than software-defined networking (SDN) deployments. Cisco’s statement is not surprising and the results of the survey are probably skewed by Cisco’s ability to deliver solutions that enable more agile and programmable networks, such as those that can be built with available SDN products.

Cisco has done a lot for the networking industry, but these most recent comments it has made related to SDN should be a concern for enterprise and service provider customers looking to the incumbent for innovation. Equating SDN with a Big Foot sighting, or creating a consortium to deliver SDN solutions that won’t be available for years (if ever), won’t solve the real problems customers face today – the lack of network agility, lengthy provisioning times, the need for over-provisioning to meet variable demand, etc.

With all due respect, I understand the plight of the incumbent. I've been on the other side of the fence myself. Answering and educating shareholders on new revenue models, never mind training and compensating sales people to drive consumption-based versus one-time, monolithic, “big box” selling methods is a challenge. Never mind trying to develop competitive software solutions to better compete with more nimble, innovative start-ups. But, stall tactics should not be your competitive posture. The market, no, rather the buyer is a whole lot smarter now.

Denial is not a strategy.

As much as I would love to see Big Foot up close and personal, I'm here to tell you that SDN is real. I know this because I see it with my own eyes anytime I talk to customers, and most recently during my latest trip to the East Coast. Companies are deploying automated, self-service networks based on SDN technologies and they are not waiting for the incumbents to be ready; they are doing it now.

I like Big Foot lore myself, but perhaps a more appropriate analogy is one of my favorite fables: the one about the two frogs in the two pots of water. One frog is placed in a pot filled with room-temperature water that is gradually being brought to boil. He slowly dies because he fails to recognize and respond to his plight. The other frog is placed in an already boiling pot of water. He immediately jumps out to save itself. The traditional hardware vendors (and I don’t mean only Cisco here) are sitting in lukewarm water. If the incumbents continue to wait wait for Big Foot to continue the Cisco metaphor – they will slowly be cooked as SDN passes them by. Meanwhile the other frog, a.k.a. “the customer,” is jumping out to save themselves choosing solutions that actually address the real pain they are experiencing today!

By this time next year, if the incumbent frog is still in its position of comfort, it will be dead in the water. How do I know this? Because the frogs that are already jumping out of the pot are my customers: PEER 1 Hosting, SunGard and Navisite, to name a few, along with several others we will be announcing in the coming weeks and throughout the year.

Jon Beck