Interop: SDN, SDN, SDN...but coulda been worse

Software-defined networking a big theme at the show, but not overdone

I thought for sure by now, 2.5 days into my Interop Las Vegas adventure, I'd be sick to death about hearing of SDN. In actuality -- and despite Cisco SVP Rob Soderbery's pre-emptive apology during the opening keynote on behalf of his colleagues inundating attendees with software-defined networking this and that -- the hype wasn't bad at all.

From my view, Interop proved to be a venue for an assortment of hot networking topics beyond SDN, including the cloud, security and mobility. I raised the topic of SDN with some of the security vendors I met with, but none really had much to say about the topic, other than acknowledging that security will be an issue if SDN takes off.

[Interop Las Vegas 2013 live blog]

Sure, I could have had more than my fill of SDN if I'd come into town for Tuesday's all-day workshop on "What is Software Defined Networking and What Impact Will It Have on Your Network." Those who attended the workshop knew what they were in for.

But Cisco's Soderbery himself shared just 1 slide on his company's "a little different" view on the subject, focusing most of his time on The Internet of Things and a basketball shooting contest vs. Cleveland Cav Kyrie Irving. The show's elaborate InteropNet supported some SDN technologies, but that didn't dominate the network. Juniper announced its latest SDN news last week, but didn't overdo it on SDN at the show. The most blatant SDN sales pitch came from HP's Bethany Mayer during her keynote presentation on Wednesday, as she ran down a laundry list of recently announced OpenFlow-enabled switches, but HP's SDN promotion on the show floor was relatively muted.

451 Research's Eric Hanselman, who chaired the show's networking track, said there's still plenty of SDN hype, pointing to optical network equipment company Cyan going public this week as an SDN company and relaying stories of OpenFlow-enabled hardware starting to show up in RFPs. And there are also plenty of people still trying to figure out what the heck SDN even is.

But at the same time, Hanselman says he sensed a "maturing view" about SDN at Interop, with a focus on what its real use-cases will be. Initially, at least for big IT shops, it might be solving the problem of virtual network infrastructures reaching capacity. But he says not a lot of places are bumping up against capacity limits quite yet.

Hanselman also fielded several questions from attendees of various sessions within the Interop networking track about what SDN might mean for them careerwise. Whether they might need to learn new programming skills, such as in Python or Ruby on Rails. "They saw the organizational changes that took place when virtualization was adopted and figure SDN could be an extension of that drama," he says.

The more immediate priority for most IT shops that Hanselman and colleagues have surveyed is upgrading the nuts and bolts infrastructure, which has gone neglected during recent lean economic times. If SDN follows any sort of path like that of virtualization technologies, which have seeped their way into IT setups over the past 7-9 years, IT pros concerned about what SDN might mean for their careers should have plenty of time for things to sort themselves out.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)