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Juniper: Security could help drive interest in SDN

News Analysis
Jun 07, 20195 mins

Juniper finds that enterprise interest in software-defined networking (SDN) is influenced by other factors, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

sdn software defined network architecture
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Security challenges and developing artificial intelligence/maching learning (AI/ML) technologies are among the key issues driving software-defined networking (SDN) implementations, according to a new Juniper survey of 500 IT decision makers.

And SDN interest abounds – 98% of the 500 said they were already using or considering an SDN implementation. Juniper said it had Wakefield Research poll IT decision makers of companies with 500 or more employees about their SDN strategies between May 7 and May 14, 2019.

SDN includes technologies that separate the network control plane from the forwarding plane to enable more automated provisioning and policy-based management of network resources. 

IDC estimates that the worldwide data-center SDN market will be worth more than $12 billion in 2022, recording a CAGR of 18.5% during the 2017-2022 period. The market-generated revenue of nearly $5.15 billion in 2017 was up more than 32.2% from 2016.

There are many ideas driving the development of SDN. For example, it promises to reduce the complexity of statically defined networks; make automating network functions much easier; and allow for simpler provisioning and management of networked resources from the data center to the campus or wide area network.

While the evolution of SDN is ongoing, Juniper’s study pointed out an issue that was perhaps not unexpected – many users are still managing operations via the command line interface (CLI). CLI is the primary text-based user interface used for configuring, monitoring and maintaining most networked devices.

“If SDN is as attractive as it is then why manage the network with the same legacy technology of the past?” said Michael Bushong, vice president of enterprise and cloud marketing at Juniper Networks. “If you deploy SDN and don’t adjust the operational model then it is difficult to reap all the benefits SDN can bring.  It’s the difference between managing devices individually which you may have done in the past to managing fleets of devices via SDN – it simplifies and reduces operational expenses.”

Juniper pointed to a Gartner prediction that stated “by 2020, only 30% of network operations teams will use the command line interface (CLI) as their primary interface, down from 85% at years end 2016.”  Garter stated that poll results from a recent Gartner conference found some 71% still using CLI as the primary way to make network changes.

Gartner wrote in the past that CLI has remained the primary operational tool for mainstream network operations teams for easily the past 15-20 years but that “moving away from the CLI is a good thing for the networking industry, and while it won’t disappear completely (advanced/nuanced troubleshooting for example), it will be supplanted as the main interface into networking infrastructure.”  

Juniper’s study found that 87% of businesses are still doing most or some of their network management at the device level.

What all of this shows is that customers are obviously interested in SDN but are still grappling with the best ways to get there, Bushong said.

The Juniper study also found users interested in SDN because of the potential for a security boost. 

SDN can empowers a variety of security benefits. A customer can split up a network connection between an end user and the data center and have different security settings for the various types of network traffic. A network could have one public-facing, low-security network that does not touch any sensitive information. Another segment could have much more fine-grained remote-access control with software-based firewall and encryption policies on it, which allow sensitive data to traverse over it. SDN users can roll out security policies across the network from the data center to the edge much more rapidly than traditional network environments.

“Many enterprises see security—not speed—as the biggest consequence of not making this transition in the next five years, with nearly 40 percent identifying the inability to quickly address new threats as one of their main concerns,” wrote Manoj Leelanivas, chief product officer at Juniper Networks, in a blog about the survey. 

“SDN is not often associated with greater security but this makes sense when we remember this is an operational transformation. In security, the challenge lies not in identifying threats or creating solutions, but in applying these solutions to a fragmented network. Streamlining complex security operations, touching many different departments and managing multiple security solutions, is where a software-defined approach can provide the answer,” Leelanivas stated.

Some of the other key findings from Juniper included:

  • The future of AI: The deployment of artificial intelligence is about changing the operational model, Bushong said. “The ability to more easily manage workflows over groups of devices and derive usable insights to help customers be more proactive rather than reactive is the direction we are moving. Everything will ultimately be AI-driven, he said.
  • Automation: While automation is often considered a threat, Juniper said its respondents see it positively within the context of SDN, with 38% reporting it will improve security and 25% that it will enhance their jobs by streamlining manual operations. 
  • Flexibility: Agility is the #1 benefit respondents considering SDN want to gain (48%), followed by improved reliability (43%) and greater simplicity (38%).
  • SD-WAN: The majority, 54%, have rolled out or are in the process of rolling out SD-WAN, while an additional 34% have it under current consideration.