What to Ask SDN Vendors Before Investing

By CIOReview | Thursday, August 4, 2016
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Enterprise network administrators are having a hard time managing and reducing the complexities of their networks, and are on a constant lookout for a dedicated SDN system that can simplify the network traffic and complexities. In the ever-changing IT market, there are SDN vendors with different approaches and strategies; some vendors provide hypervisors and virtual switches while others offer virtualization tools and appliances for OpenFlow type SDN. For successful implementation of a holistic SDN system, it is necessary to select and invest on a vendor whose offerings can meet the customer's requirements.

Here are some of the questions to ask SDN vendors, which might help customers remove the bottlenecks involved in purchasing a holistic SDN system for their enterprise:

What are the SDN offerings?

Built on the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model helps SDN to standardize and characterize the communication functions of a network or computing system without the need to rely on the internal structure and technology. Creating a holistic SDN product suite, covering all the 7 layers of OSI model is a major task for SDN vendors, as they usually offer only one or two key elements of an SDN data type. While understanding the offerings of the SDN and evaluating controller product, it is important that the offering suits the existing environment.

Which SDN applications can run on your platform?

Prior to the purchase of an SDN platform, it is very important to know the SDN applications that the platform can support. There are many variants in vendor offerings; some SDN applications allow the users to integrate SDN products within their business processes. Some vendors provide toolsets to build logic, specific to the customer’s needs. If customers are looking to solve a specific problem by purchasing a vendor-supplied and supported SDN application, then understanding the latest trends of application in the market is very important. Also, it is essential to look for the roadmap of the vendor by analyzing the activities and on-going trends in the market. If the need is to bring network into orchestration or DevOps, customers should get knowledge from vendors about how their platform will help to develop the application.

What purpose does your SDN product fulfill after deployment?

There have been a lot of startups working in this sector since the advent of SDN market. The goal is that the vendor’s product should fulfill the necessity of the customer. To understand the requirement, the product must be evaluated which can only be done by asking the SDN vendor to supply the whitepapers and customer references to evaluate whether the technology addresses the specific challenges.

Is your product useful, if my network hardware is not programmable?

Not all the hardware is OpenFlow compatible. It is important that the vendor should explain how their product can interface with the non-programmable hardware. Today, there are many remote configuration methods—SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), and CLI (Command Line Interface).

Will your product integrate into my existing network?

‘Hybrid Switching’ and ‘SDN Islands’ passes through an SDN gateway, and are the common approaches. For the product to integrate into the existing network, vendor should have a reference architecture illustrating how to bring SDN product alongside the existing network.

Which licensing model do you use?

Vendor license technology has an impact on the budget of the client. Different vendors have different licensing model, as they may license by capability, per device, traffic or transaction volume. There are some products whose licensing cost becomes high as years roll by.

Which one is good for me In-Band or Out-Band management?

While building an SDN network, communications between Southbound layer—network devices and controller, and Northbound layer—applications and controller is a very crucial network function. In-Band is implemented for its ability to detect a path in the mesh network between the device and the controller to reveal network link failure. Whereas, Out-Of-Band network management offers a strong control-plan, latency to improves network security.

Which OpenFlow operations can your switch perform, and how fast?

Vendors offering switches may have OpenFlow compatibility with some of the hardware switch product lines. Some switch vendors have designed custom Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) for their switches to perform task-forwarding, prioritization, and encapsulation operations rapidly. If OpenFlow at scale     is a crucial part of the evaluation, then vendor should specifically be asked about which OpenFlow operations their switch can perform and at how many flows per second.

What programming languages does your API support?

Ask the vendor what languages their API support and are they publishing their API? These are important discussions if you want to design and build an application on the vendor’s platform by leveraging their API.

What skills the operators need to learn to run the product?

The vendor should explain how their specific product will have an impact on the existing operational policies. Further, it is important for the staff to learn new skills and update their current process to run the new SDN product successfully.

What support will you offer for the product?

Customers need vendor support to fix the bugs and problems after implementing an SDN product, and it is necessary for them to understand how the vendor will support them in such situations and build a better relationship.

Is your product free from vendor lock-in?

SDN is an area where interoperability standards have not been setup, but with advancements and efforts, industries have developed and adhered to an interoperable standard, allowing customers to prevent lock-in with a single vendor. So, if vendor’s service fails and customer feels it’s time to switch the existing SDN vendor, then it becomes important for the customer to ask whether the vendor's product is free from vendor lock-in.

What is the roadmap ahead? And, will the SDN offering be OpenDaylight-compliant?

Knowing what the future plans of the vendors are, will help customers understand the ongoing trends in the SDN market arena. Vendors are looking at OpenDaylight (ODL) as a valid foundation for their SDN offering. ODL project is an open source project and it would be necessary for a customer to have an ODL-compliant SDN product which will have innovative network options and enhance the SDN capabilities.