Why Improving OPEX is Critical to the Success of OpenFlow® and SDN?
Much of the discussion around SDN in general and OpenFlow® in specific has been around the potential for dramatically lower (hardware) costs for Ethernet switches and routers. The argument is that the use of open standards will increase competition and thus force lower margins on traditionally high cost (65-70% margin) equipment. Costs of acquiring the switch or router gear while high are only part of the overall cost equation. The 80-20 rule works here. In general, less than 20% of the overall cost of purchasing and operating the network (enterprise or CSP) comes from the initial purchase price. 80% of the cost comes from ongoing operations and services contracts. Today, experienced network personnel are required to set up, administer, change, and maintain the network. These personnel can be hard to find, expensive, and difficult to retain.
Network management has not kept pace with management advances in other parts of IT. For example, it can take a week to reconfigure the network to support new virtual applications. And, the larger the network the more complex and expensive it is to operate – the reverse of Metcalfe’s Law. This complexity also inhibits installation of multi-vendor networks – as each vendor has unique network management tools that do not necessarily work well together.
Thus, the key challenge that OpenFlow® must address is how to make networks easier to support, manage, and operate. For years, network management tools have taken a back seat to equipment design that maximizes performance. More recently, Cisco, Juniper, HP, and other network equipment providers have started to focus on tools to improve network operations. These efforts to improve network management still have a long way to go and work best in a single-vendor environment.
OpenFlow® significantly improves the programmability of the network. It is this improvement in programming capabilities that will allow for new (application level) software to relieve the network administration burden. SDN can improve network operation via automation of configuration and other management tasks. Via automation, OpenFlow® could help to eliminate configuration errors – a key problem for network administration. In addition, OpenFlow® will improve the flexibility (elasticity) of the network allowing network operations to more easily move network resources to where they are needed the most. Linking network management with network security (e.g., firewall) administration would be a plus here.
The key targets in the challenge to improve OPEX should be the Fortune 1000 network administrators and the VAR/system integrator partners that support many networks worldwide. Concrete examples, freely available scripts, broad based (on line) training will be required to clearly illustrate the OPEX benefits of Openflow.
Lee Doyle is an independent industry analyst with over 25 years experience in the IT and networking industries. His research focuses on the intelligent network and the impact of SDN – see more thoughts on the intelligent network at his blog http://doyleresearch.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter: leedoyle_dc