Slowly at first, then all at once: such is the pattern of true technological disruption. Years of fermentation under the radar, followed by an explosive rush to adopt and adapt.
It only seems sudden to those immersed in the status quo. The enabling drivers have actually been brewing and compounding for quite a while. Sometimes incumbent viewpoints might catch a glimpse of the strange activity in their peripheral vision, but a quick blink would bring them back to the way things have been done for years. Then, boom. It’s here.
Software-Defined Networking (SDN) embodies this pattern completely. The incumbent hardware-centric model continued to plod on while key technology drivers were gaining ground and customers began to articulate the need for solutions to new business problems. At some point the techno-demand chemistry hit critical mass and a new age of networking began to be publicly and noisily validated. The perceived suddenness is only that: perceived. It’s been brewing for years.
However, it’s the meta-signal in SDN that matters the most: the rapid, incredible way in which “software” has stolen the mantle from a hardware-centric industry.
For this reason, the power of the SDN movement in terms of its impending impact on the current industrial structure is awesome. We’re in the midst of a macro-industrial phenomenon, a true inflection point caused by a rare but perfect storm:
- Demand: Urgent need for large step-function improvements in value from IT. Globalization and hyper-competition wait for no one.
- Supply: Innovations across technology fields that are individually impressive and collectively awesome.
Against this backdrop, the monolithic view of network infrastructure is decomposing before our eyes, replaced by building blocks with standard connecting points. Open, software-driven architectures are shattering the barriers to networking infrastructure in a race to fulfill the new trinity: speed, cost and agility.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the shocking view of the blank slate: large SPs and cloud providers see Google in the rear view mirror, looming inexorably closer. It’s not the concept of competition that alarms them; it’s the unprecedented pace of advancement they’re witnessing.
It is no longer safe to question whether software can play a central role in new networking architectures. The only safe move is to embrace that now-obvious fact and move forward. Why? Because software cycles are wickedly fast and the benefits compound more rapidly than hardware ever could.
Today’s software development environment is modern, open and attracts people with unique – and intolerant – views regarding things that slow them down. Successfully embracing this era requires a strategic commitment to change that ranges across organization, resource allocation and culture. Those who succeed – customers and vendors alike – will be the ones who put software-centricity at the core of their business strategy. Lip service won’t work; it’s a fundamental change.
It’s visible already, from the DevOps movement to cloud development teams to collaboration around new open-source projects. The organizational intensity on software is growing daily. The genie is out of the bottle and he’s never going back in.
Welcome to the New Normal of networking: software-centrism.