HP bets on SDN going mainstream… next year

Dominic Wilde spoke on SDN

Dominic Wilde, vice president of global product line management for HP Networking

LAS VEGAS – There’s a tendency for tech pundits to proclaim any given year “the year of X,” especially when “X” is a major trend impacting their part of the industry.

But for HP’s networking group, there’s still too much work to be done with software-defined networking to make 2014 the year SDN really hits home. So in a phrase familiar to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, they’re saying “Wait ‘till next year.”

“[Our SDN strategy is going to] evolve throughout 2014, and 2015 is the year where you’ll get broader adoption,” said Dominic Wilde, vice president of global product line management for HP Networking. “We’re already gaining momentum, and it’s growing fast. 2015 is going to be a very interesting year.”

SDN has been widely discussed, and has become the networking marketer’s buzzphrase of choice over the last three years. And there are significant benefits to the promise of greater software control, programmability, and network application development that arise due to the technology. The concepts are well understood. The business value and context, not so much. That’s evident to Wilde in the nature of the conversation HP is having with customers around SDN. It’s going beyond educating on the basics of the technology, and moving into making it real for customers.

“People are looking for how this applies to them. They’re looking for context and the understanding of what they can do with it,” he said. “They understand the theory, now they want to understand how to apply it. That’s the learning curve we’re going through right now.”

A panel here at Interop of HP representatives and customers touched on some of the mindsets, opportunities and issues around SDN – and most comments harkened back to the need for context and business value understanding Wilde touches upon.

“SDN means different things to different people,” Wilde said on the panel. Some of the top answers he’s seen: an abstraction layer for the network, a control surface for the network, and then end of “human middleware” and the need to fiddle with command line interfaces.

Not surprisingly, HP’s own IT group is relatively far along its own SDN journey, part of what CEO Meg Whitman likes to call “drinking our own champagne,” itself a gentrification of the IT marketing catchphrase “eating our own dog food.”

John Lino, distinguished technologist and chief network architected for HP IT U.S., said he believes SDN will help IT to define the user experience with the network, and create new measurements for network success in terms of that experience.

“The entire IT infrastructure is about enabling the employee and the company, so whatever you can accomplish in the network to achieve that is going to be interesting,” Lino said.

Joel Godbout, networking and communications team lead for Edmonton-based PCL Construction, an HP customer on the panel, said his organization has yet to find the killer app to make SDN a pressing issue, but doesn’t doubt there will be one, especially as the amount of data bandwidth consumed by companies like his continues to explode.

“I’m looking forward to SDN applications that can make the network more intelligence because we have challenges with so much data being created,” Godbout said. Technologies like smart load balancing, empowered by SDN, could go a long way to helping prioritize traffic on the network and improving performance for all involved.

For Mergim Sahin, general manager of France-based HP partner Wellcoms Technology, SDN as we know it today is the first step of an evolution that will ultimately lead us to “software defined connectivity.” Sahin outlined his belief that the technology will expand from the wired and wireless networks on which it can be found today and into the mobile world, a move that will potentially create a single surface for connectivity and make it easier to use the right network for the right traffic at the right time with the right service levels, whether it’s wired, WiFi, or mobile.

“That’s the future of SDN in the next five years,” Sahin said.