Wow. Certain networking vendors have started to declare they are winners, while others say software defined network (SDN) is over. All I have to say (in my best George Takei voice) is, “Oh, my!” I’m lucky enough to spend most of my day interacting with many end users to know that those statements clearly show how out of touch some vendors are with customers. Let me make this clear: In today’s environment, only customers can make those statements, and this is probably why some vendors don’t get it. It is a foreign concept and vendors are in the denial stage of loss, losing power to customers.

This realization hit me like a ton of bricks at Open Networking User Group conference in New York City. This hasn’t happened any time in the past within the networking world. Customers are dictating requirements. This is not the same concept as the market deciding the best technology after it gets developed, such as CDP vs LLDP, EIGRP vs OSPF, etc. In this new world, customers are defining network characteristics before the technology exists or has been developed by the vendor community. Don’t believe me? Read through ONUG’s white paper on vendor development guidelines regarding investment directions and proof of concepts (POCs) of SDN and network function virtualization (NFV) for the user community.  

The shift in power from vendor or technology management department to customer didn’t start here (read about Forrester’s age of the customer). We have all experienced it in one form or another. For example, the hot topic over the last few years has been how the business and employees empower themselves with shadow IT, cloud services, and their own personal devices. Technology is fundamentally changing the way business is being done (read about mobile moments). As such, business leaders have taken a more proactive stance in choosing the technology their companies need.

With networking touching every part of the business, the network becomes the vital platform to make the technology shift from just information technology to business technology. This is a dire time. Please join Goldman Sachs, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and other large companies in voicing what your business needs the network to do and what is at stake. Can you remember any time in networking when a non-IT company’s CEO uttered the word “networking”? Probably never.

As such, infrastructure and operations professionals should take the lead and demand more from their vendors, as I outlined in my blogthis past June. I would use SDN and NFV as a conversational opener. If you had to attend one conference to get a perspective of the reality of SDN and what you should be asking from the vendors, I would make it ONUG. You will find out that most enterprises (Citibank, MWH, Cardinal Health, and others) are looking at or piloting SDN solutions for the wide area network (WAN), not data center local area network (LAN). Unlike ONUG, the other conferences mostly have vendors presenting as though it were 1999 and presenting their view (which is out of step with most enterprises today). ONUG brings together birds of feather and has them presenting and sharing information with each other. Don’t let vendors make the call that they are winners or SDN is dead. Only you can.

Until I see you at ONUG’s May conference, you should get up to speed on SDN, i.e., the challenges and best practices, by reading Is Software-Defined Networking Ready For The Enterprise? Part 1 Of 3, Is Software-Defined Networking Ready For The Enterprise? Part 2 Of 3, and Is Software-Defined Networking Ready For The Enterprise? Part 3 Of 3.