One of the biggest problems that may delay widespread SDN adoption is not a problem of coding or engineering, but one of poetry.
Network management is about logic and reason, but our nomenclature was written by poets. Even the word “networking” calls to the image a “netting work” – like you would find on a hammock or trapeze artist’s safety net. We talk about network “pipes,” and conjure throughput like liquid water flowing through Roman aqueducts or modern PVC piping. We think of the “flow” of data through those pipes, though the only “fluid” is the movement of electrons – if that.
Metaphors that are inelegant or uninformative (“Information Superhighway” for example) fail.
Which is why SDN can be hard to envision. Intellectually, we know that it is about separating the control of where data is sent and the hardware that actually sends it. But what metaphor can we conjure that makes sense to explain this concept?
This is a problem for poets.
One metaphor that was recently used in IT Business Edge was the idea of “relying on a traffic helicopter instead of a GPS unit.” And immediately, I realized that while I liked the article – the metaphor itself didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Part of it is the real-world example already becoming obsolete. We do still have traffic helicopters, but software technologies such as Waze are using the data gathered from thousands of individual GPS devices to create a comparable picture of traffic patterns – using both traffic helicopters and GPS data.
Ultimately, these are metaphors of visibility in data; of route analytics.
And to be sure, while many things may change under SDN, the need for visibility into how data is traversing networks is not one of them. That’s why route analytics is just as important as ever. Indeed, one can argue that it is more so – as more of the network will be controlled from central software-defined control points.
When you centralize command and control, it eliminates duplication of effort, it allows for changes to be made more accurately and to respond quicker to the needs of the network.
But only if you have the data you need to make good decisions. Without that data, without that visibility, you are simply making ill-informed decisions faster and on a broader scale.
So in reality, software defined networking isn’t so much a different type of networking; just a new way to centralize and control networking.
I suppose if we were to hunt for that metaphor, it would be this: The more centralized the solution, the greater the risk of failure.
If my computer were to crash right now, it would be bad. If the WiFi at the coffee shop where I’m writing this post were to fail, it would be disastrous for many of us. If Google were to go down, however, the level of lost productivity would be measured in aggregate loss to the gross domestic product of the G20 nations.
That is why route analytics – why having the information available to make the best decisions in real time, is important. Now, more than ever.