There’s been a crazy media circus around NFL football player Richard Sherman, which culminated with the Seattle Seahawks cornerback on national TV describing ESPN’s Skip Bayless as a “cretin” who spews “ignorant pollution.” It kind of reminds me of Software Defined Networks (SDN).
Stay with me here. Mr. Sherman, who elevated trash-talking to new heights after beating the 49ers on Sunday, is not only a highly skilled technician, but he is a marketing genius. He is Chief Disruptor of the NFL. We need this level of energy in the marketing of SDN, which has been undersold and misunderstood so far.
The telecom and communications industries have their own ignorant pollution when it comes to SDN. Most SDN marketing so far has been bland, buzzword marketing, describing the implementation of SDN as a boring hardware commoditization process.
The story has focused on how making more open telecom systems will make hardware cheaper, rather than the value that will be created through new softwaware creation. We should focus on the profound changes in SDN rather than trying to reduce it to a bucket of buzzwords like “commoditized hardware,” as it is often described in the Wall Street Journal.
With SDN we are talking about changing the whole system, and making disparate networks interoperable with open software, setting up a platform that enables a creation of a whole new generation of applications.
This is already a wider trend in all of technology, with systems moving toward open-source software and abstraction and community-based development, trends that are firmly in place in mobile networks, gaming, social networking, digital media, and enterprise networks. This has unleashed an explosion of creativity. The businesses that embraced these trends first have been the most successful.
The commoditization story misses where the value is going to be created. If you were to sum up the rise of Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s, would you focus on how cheap the hardware was? That would have been a mistake. You should have focused on the explosive growth of new business applications and services that could run on the cheap hardware.
Yet, many technology execs are grinding their own axe, dismissive of the changes that are possible in telecom. One such executive is Steve Mullaney of VMware, who recently said that SDN isn’t happening (ignorant pollution).
Mullaney probably made such a ridiculous statement because his company is in a leaderhips position and he thinks it’s good marketing. It’s good old-fashioned Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). It’s also disingenous. It’s interesting that in the same sentence he mentions that SDN is already happening at places such as Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG), which handle as much traffic as some of the largest global service providers. Maybe it’s true that SDN won’t happen at Verizon (VZ) — but that doesn’t mean that huge value can’t be created from it.
Does this mean that big hardware incumbents such as Cisco Systems Inc. and service providers like AT&T and Verizon are going to be fine and get SDN right away? Nope — that’s the point. As with any disruptive technology, they might get it, they might not. The service providers certainly missed out on the cloud-computing boom. The incumbents are more worried about building bigger moats, rather than new castles.
On TV, the telecom and incumbent executives are our Skip Bayless. Behind they scenes, they’re panicked about what to do when Richard Sherman comes along. It’s not a coincidence that there’s suddenly a flurry of deals to restructure some of the incumbents in networking.
Richard Sherman is coming to the SDN market to spice things up a bit. Be ready. Sherman’s smarter than most people think, and so is SDN. Service providers and networking hardware vendors should get board soon or they might wake up the next morning feeling like Michael Crabtree.