In the movie, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Spock's older brother, Sybok, had telepathic abilities and he could feel people's pain by touching them. In the movie he would say, "share your pain with me and gain strength from sharing." Sybok was a deeply religious Vulcan and, in the movie, sought out to find "Sha Ka Ree," the Vulcan equivalent of Eden, where everything began. Nirvana, if you will.
In the networking industry, software defined networks (SDN) are supposed to bring the networking equivalent of Sha Ka Ree. However, I don't need to be a Vulcan telepath to understand customers' pain when it comes to SDNs. Almost every network professional I talk to today has an interest in SDN. However, the majority of businesses feel that deploying a software defined network is too complicated.
Also, when I discuss the topic of SDNs with IT leaders, the discussion tends to be data center-focused because that's where the majority of emphasis has been from the vendor community. If there's value in speeding up and automating processes, enabling programmability and simplifying the architecture in the data center, doesn't it make sense to extend the SDN to the campus and the wide area network? Of course it does, but it's hard to SDN-enable legacy infrastructure that's not SDN-capable. This is where the pain would come from for most businesses. The cost and complexity of doing a rip and replace across the company will create a significant amount of discomfort for the business and the IT department.
There are also a number of devices, such as factory floor equipment and medical devices, that are connected to the network but certainly have not been engineered with SDN in mind. Do these devices create ongoing pain as IT waits a decade for them to become SDN-enabled? Even if I could share my pain with Sybok, what's he going to do about it? Maybe running away to Sha Ka Ree until the SDN transition is complete might make the most sense!
There is another way, though. This week at Avaya's Technology Forum (ATF) in Orlando, Florida, the company announced a number of products designed to extend a software defined network. Think of Avaya's SDN extender being the equivalent of what fabric extenders (FEX) do to expand the footprint of a data center fabric. I won't go into great detail on each product since Jim Duffy did this in his article earlier this week.
The product that I felt had the most potential to ease customer pain is the new Avaya Open Network Adapters (ONA). Duffy's article has a picture of these in it and, as can be seen, these are very simple devices. So simple, in fact, that they can be installed by non-IT personnel. The idea is that one of the ONAs can extend the software define network to any device with an Ethernet port, including medical devices, a branch office switch, or even factory floor equipment. The ONA can SDN-enable infrastructure that was previously thought to be un-SDN-able. The benefit of doing this is that the automation and programming capabilities of the SDN can be brought to virtually any network device in the organization.
In addition to the ONA, Avaya released a couple of other products: a fabric orchestrator and a feature that enables its Fabric Connect solution to be extended across any IP-based network.
Avaya has wrapped up the new products into an SDN-extended architecture that takes advantage of Avaya's automated core but enables changes to be made from the edge of a network. Want to provision a new service? Just make the change once at the edge and it will get provisioned across the network without having to touch the core. Now, with the ONAs, the edge can be expanded to almost everywhere.
I've talked to some other analysts and those in the media who have felt that Avaya was late to the SDN game, which is true to some degree. However, Avaya took a much different approach to enabling its customers to build an SDN. Instead of building a separate controller that can SDN-enable a data center, the company chose to leverage its fabric to SDN-enable the entire network. The networking industry is filled with "me too" solutions, so it's nice to see Avaya doing something unique.