Mat Mathews

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SDN and Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Many years ago Gartner introduced their technology Hype Cycle, which maps visibility against maturity for new technology. The Hype Cycle in essence states that many new technologies get a large amount of visibility early in their maturity cycle. The visibility and enthusiasm drops significantly when reality sets in: technologies early in their maturity cycle will have low adoption rates. The vast majority of customers of technology are conservative in their choices, especially if this new technology is not (yet) fundamental to this customer’s business.

I call it common sense reality, Garter calls it the Trough of Disillusionment, fine. It is that realization that the technology may have lots of promises, but isn’t ready to be consumed.

That is where the real work starts, maturing the technology, driving solutions and use cases, creating the economic viability of the technology and tons of other stuff that needs to be done to get a customer base to actually buy into this technology. Not with words and attention, but with the only thing that matters ultimately, money. Gartner calls delivering these absolutely necessary components the Slope of Enlightenment.

Not every technology follows this cycle, not every technology survives the downward turn after the inflated expectations and visibility. Coming out of the trough is the hardest part of introducing new technology. Taking pieces of technology that have lots of promise and then turning them into a product that people want to buy is really hard work. The skills required to turn new technology into a consumable product is just as hard as creating the technology to begin with.

If we look back at SDN over the past year or two (maybe three), it is undeniable that SDN as a generic term and OpenFlow as a foundational technology (according to some anyways, replace OpenFlow with VXLAN if you wish) ran up the visibility and hype curve fast. The concepts have almost unlimited capabilities and will solve everything that has ever been wrong with networking. To get to such a hype, there needs to be an audience, and a sustained audience must have a problem that needs to be solved.

For 2 years SDN was a magic term and promised to solve whatever needed solving. Dave Husak described it very well today with a customer. Lots of ideas were created, research was done and startups created in an SDN ecosystem before there was such a thing as an SDN ecosystem. Or before we could actually articulate the need for an ecosystem. Or how each of these pieces would come together to form real solutions for real problems. Don’t get me wrong. There are real ideas, real solutions and real problems that need to be solved. And some of the solutions being created (commercially or otherwise) are very much needed components.

The amount of hype and noise surrounding SDN has dropped quite significantly in the past year. The reporting, press and discussions have become more rational, more focused and the swing towards service provider oriented NFV (which happened to be lumped into the same bucket, but is now a more nuanced set of solutions and technologies) has helped to create a more honest, solution based SDN discussion. By doing so, it also has changed the meaning of SDN from a specific set of technologies to the (again more rational) philosophy and approach to defining networks.

If we assume that the Hype Curve exists for SDN, we may well be in in the tail end of the Trough, with maturity and real solutions bringing it to a reality. If I look at what we have been doing here at Plexxi and the customer successes we have seen in the past quarters (you know, those successes backed up with real dollars), the real interest we get each and every day, it would support that software defined networking is real. And I wrote that non capitalized on purpose. The challenge with anything that has received the amount of attention that SDN has received is that it has devalued what it could stand for, and confused what it actually stands for.

And as unfortunate as that may be, it does not change the fact that we are building real networks that are defined by software.

The post SDN and Gartner’s Hype Cycle appeared first on Plexxi.

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Visionary solutions are built by visionary leaders. Plexxi co-founder and Vice President of Product Management Mat Mathews has spent 20 years in the networking industry observing, experimenting and ultimately honing his technology vision. The resulting product — a combination of traditional networking, software-defined networking and photonic switching — represents the best of Mat's career experiences. Prior to Plexxi, Mat held VP of Product Management roles at Arbor Networks and Crossbeam Systems. Mat began his career as a software engineer for Wellfleet Communications, building high speed Frame Relay Switches for the carrier market. Mat holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.