Software-defined networking, Unified Communications assessed in Network Instruments’ seventh annual survey

A good map is essential whenever you want to travel uncharted territory. But many network professionals compare their foray into software-defined networking (SDN) to going on a trip with no map at all. And their uncertainty shows.

The 241 network professionals surveyed for Network Instruments’ seventh annual “State of the Network” delivered an earful about SDN, Unified Communications, organizational bandwidth, 40 Gb adoption, BYOD and more. This year’s survey, which NI published on Monday, provides a detailed snapshot of how network managers and engineers view their main challenges.

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While 12 per cent of respondents regard SDN as critical, the rest seem divided on just how important it is. Eighty per cent say it’s unimportant or that they’re just waiting for the hype to die down.

Forty per cent say SDN can’t be defined at all, but about a third figure it can be defined as “Automated Provisioning of Network Resources.” One in five of organizations surveyed plans to have SDN rolled out by the end of the year.

The top drivers behind SDN adoption are the need to improve the network’s ability to dynamically adapt to changing business demands (48 percent) and to deliver new services faster (40 percent). Others indicated lowering operating expenses, decreasing capital expenses, improving the ability to provision network infrastructure, and designing more realistic network infrastructures as motivators.

While network departments are investigating and adopting SDN and 40 Gb Ethernet networks cautiously, technologies such as Unified Communications UC and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are approaching the threshold of mainstream adoption, with more than 50 percent implementation slated by year’s end.

Network bandwidth is booming. By 2015, 25 percent of organizations expect their bandwidth demand to grow by between 51 percent and 100 percent. Twelve per cent predict growth of more than 100 percent. By the end of next year a quarter of organizations will have implemented 40 Gb data rates in their enterprise networks.

As applications and networks grow in complexity, the ability to resolve performance problems degrades. Seventy-four percent of respondents said their biggest application troubleshooting challenge was finding out whether the source of network performance problems was the network, the system or the application. That’s a six per cent rise over last year’s results.

UC apps, notably videoconferencing, have hit the big time. Two-thirds of respondents have implemented videoconferencing this year’ only a quarter had done so in 2009. Seventy-one per cent have now deployed voice-over-IP (VoIP), compared to 45 per cent in 2009, and nearly half use instant messaging, while only 27 per cent had done so in 2009.

Still, the end-user experience with UC is unclear to network management, with adoption of application monitoring proving to be very slow. Over half said lack of visibility into the user’s UC experience was their top UC management challenge. Difficulty assessing bandwidth usage was a problem for 39 percent, and an inability to assess UC deployment impact was a challenge for 38 percent of respondents.

“As with any emerging technology, IT management is grappling over the definition of SDN, as well as its benefit and importance to the organization,” said Brad Reinboldt, manager of Product Marketing for Network Instruments.

“As network professionals come to terms with SDN and its relevance, they continue to juggle multiple major initiatives including Big Data, UC, BYOD and 40 Gb deployment. As IT continues to roll out bandwidth-hungry applications to keep pace with the needs of a global, mobile workforce, they lag in the visibility and troubleshooting technologies needed to monitor their burgeoning networks.”

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