SDN bemuses federal admins, but they still want it


Vendors and the Open Network Foundation are working to explain SDN to the wider IT community. Credit: Asharkyu

A majority of IT professionals in federal government understand how software-defined networks will benefit their agencies, though they acknowledge lacking a solid understanding of how the emerging technology actually works.

This paradoxical state of affairs in the public sector was quantified in a Juniper Networks survey released Thursday, which found that 66 percent of respondents believe SDN will help their agencies become more efficient and save money. About one-third said they have plans to adopt SDN within the next two years, suggesting that adoption will happen sooner than many have forecasted, according to Juniper, an SDN vendor.

Yet the survey performed by Wakefield Research also found preparedness lacking:

61 percent of respondents admitted they are not familiar with SDN

Among those who said they were familiar, 58 percent had at least two misconceptions about implementation

15 percent believed SDN required manual configuration of hardware, when the truth is that SDN would help remove those tasks.

“There is a clear need to develop a defined roadmap with an eye toward future-proofing government IT,” said Mark Belk, the chief architect for national government at Juniper Networks.

Unpacking SDN

Proponents argue that SDN will centralize control of networks, making them programmable and more agile. John Dix, editor-in-chief at Network World, explained it this way in a June story on the promise of SDN:

Rather than the classic approach of each network device principally worrying about adjacent devices and forwarding traffic based on that knowledge, centralizing intelligence makes it possible to see the network end-to-end and make smarter, big picture decisions, and when it comes time to make network changes, you can touch the network once instead of having to update each link in the chain.

A Dell white paper on the technology described it as a final frontier, of sorts, and a means of finding even greater efficiencies through cloud computing.

“SDN enables a new type of network virtualization, providing the last piece of the puzzle required to deliver low-lost, all-inclusive private cloud solutions to the enterprise data center,” according to Dell, a leading SDN technology provider.

Educating the public sector

Joining vendors in closing the knowledge gap is the Open Networking Foundation, whose board members include Facebook, Google, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. The foundation has spurred innovation in this area by specifiying the OpenFlow protocol as the standard way SDN controllers communicate with network devices.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
Tags: Cloud Computing,Government,Technology