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Myths and Misconceptions on Networking, Network management and Software-defined Networking (SDN)

By Chris Young, HP Technical Marketing Engineer


cy.jpgThe months of May and June are a busy time for us at HP Networking and Las Vegas seems to be the place to be. From the industry show, Interop, to HP's premiere event, HP Discover, we have a lot of chances to talk to a LOT of customers and partners about the trends and changes in the industry right now and nothing is a hotter topic than Software Defined Networking (SDN).


What's interesting to me is how many myths and misconceptions people come forward with around SDN. In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion and bring some light into the darkness, we've put together this list of some of the most common SDN misconceptions that we were hit with:


SDN is network management


Because many of the examples thrown around in the industry today are things like "Say you want to deploy a bunch of VLANS to 50 switches..."  Many of our customers are having a having a hard time visualizing the difference between NMS and SDN. Although there is some overlap, for me, the easiest way to think about this is to think about a single switch today.


The SDN controller is basically just the brains of your switch today. Although the SDN controller is going to do it at a larger scale, performing these functions across multiple physical devices, but it's really just like a traditional switch.


SDN Management, on the other hand, is going to perform the traditional FCAPS functions in an SDN environment.  SDN Management is going to detect faults, configure controllers and switches, (Ac)count the applications and traffic on the network, monitor the performance, and manage the security of the many SDN domains in the enterprise network. 


I don't need SDN, I can automate today


In addition to being juxtaposed to network management SDN is also compared to automation. There are a number of SDN use cases to which the savvy network admin may retort with a "we do that today with automation, so why do I need SDN".


Here's why -


Today's network automation is complex and fragile because there is no simple way to talk to the network. Even a simple "If this then that" example might rely on using a combination of SNMP, Syslog, Telnet and CLI commands which can be easily broken by a MIB change or firmware update. Wouldn't life be much easier if we had a single, abstract API to the network? Enter SDN...


The Lord of the Rings belief


The belief goes: One Ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. Although many people shared the belief that there is going to be a single controller that's going to control the entire global network; the reality is quite a bit different.


Although it's still not 100% clear what enterprise architecture is going to look like, we can be pretty sure that it will be comprised of multiple SDN controller domains deployed in different parts of the network.  There will likely be controller domains responsible for branch, Campus, and data center architectures, each one loaded with SDN applications relevant to that architectural component.


SDN is the end of hardware innovation


There’s a lot of talk about how SDN is going to kill the legacy switching manufacturers through the commoditization of hardware.  Although there may be some vendors who don’t survive this transition, I don’t think that hardware is dead yet. To start with, overlay networks need to have a physical network to “overlay” over. It is true that hardware is going to have to make some advances to keep up with where SDN is taking us, but I think that’s offers a greater opportunity for hardware to innovate and differentiate.


The best part is that networking is exciting again and HP is leading the pack through its work with the ONF, not to mention its industry leadership with 40 switches enabled with full OpenFlow support.


SDN controllers are SDN applications


Many people are talking, thinking and learning about SDN, but very, very few are actually experimenting with it. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure yet; it's a less than impressive experience.


Whether you get started with an open-source controller with Mini net, or whether you're lucky enough to have access to a commercial controller and OpenFlow-capable switches, setting up an SDN lab environment looks a little like this:


  • Install and configure SDN controller
  • Configure OpenFlow capable switch to point to the SDN controller
  • Switch connects to the SDN controller and downloads default rules
  • Traffic flows just like it would in a normal switch

Yes, you can ping. It's completely unimpressive.  In many ways, a parallel can be drawn between a modern operating system like Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX and the SDN controller.  Similar to an OS, the true value appears when the applications written to leverage the controller are brought into the picture.


Whether it's turning your access switches into a botnet detection network with the HP Sentinel SDN application, increasing end user satisfaction by allowing applications to give special treatment to business critical applications like Microsoft Lync, or sending business-critical application traffic over expensive high-quality links while letting lower priority traffic run over less expensive connections, SDN applications are where the game-changing value of SDN is going to be delivered.  Applications bring value, not operating systems.


This brings us to our last misconception, and my personal favorite. 


I need to be a programmer to use SDN


Let me go back to the operating system analogy here for a second. Everyone has experience with operating systems. Our PCs, tablets, smartphones, and now even our cars, printers and home appliances have them. When we have a specific need though, very, very few of us have ever gotten our hands dirty writing code.


In fact, I know some very talented programmers who still use Outlook or Lotus Notes for email, Microsoft Word or Pages for word processing. My point is that there are a lot of applications out there to choose from. Choose one that meets your needs, install it, and (hopefully!) start getting value from it.


SDN applications are going to be the same way.  As the SDN ecosystem starts to grow, you will be able to buy an integrated SDN stack from a single vendor, getting the switches, controller and application in a one-stop shopping experience.




You could also choose a 3rd-party application written by one of the HP Ecosystem partners like Microsoft or the many others who are joining us on this journey.



In the rare event that you have a requirement that cannot be met with off-the-shelf software, you will always have the option of having your developers write code to address your exact business or technical challenge. For the majority of customers, just like today, we'll just leave the coding to the coders, buy an app and get on with addressing our own business priorities.


I'm hoping this helps to clear up some of the confusion around SDN. I'd love to hear from you though. What SDN myths are you seeing out there today? Feel free to post questions or comments below so we can clear this up together.


For more information, go to  and also view the video series with Dr. Jim Metzler at:



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This post will definitely clear a lot of minds, esp the ones who are starting to feel what a real Networking Management is.  Busting these myths and misconceptions will make network managment more convenient, clear, organize and easy to handle.




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