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Network Operators Prefer Open Source SDN: Report

Networking professionals favor open source SDN and are looking to software-defined networking to solve security and other network ills, according to a report released Wednesday.

The survey of 600 North American network operators -- with representation split evenly between enterprises and service providers -- showed that 95% view open source SDN or Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) technologies positively. Of that percentage, 48% of those surveyed said open source SDN/NFV is a key factor for their final product selection.

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At the same time, a vast majority of those polled -- 76% -- want their open source SDN technology to come from commercial suppliers, according to the report.

The results aren't surprising, given the study was sponsored by the OpenDaylight Project, an open source SDN effort founded almost a year ago by industry giants such as Cisco, Juniper, VMware, and IBM. The project released its first open source SDN code last month, Hydrogen.

Despite the self-confirming results for OpenDaylight, the survey also had some interesting findings about what network operators hope to get from SDN and where they are in implementing it.

According to the report, many companies are looking to SDN and NFV to improve security: 72% cited improved security posture as a benefit of the technologies. Those polled also cited service improvements and streamlining of network operations as top benefits of SDN/NFV.

The study -- conducted by Gigaom Research -- notes that these findings indicate companies are looking for more immediate returns from SDN and NFV, rather than the often-touted promises of advancements in network provisioning and programmability.

In fact, survey participants indicated that they're on surprisingly aggressive timelines for rolling out SDN/NFV. Fifty-three percent of participants said they plan to deploy SDN/NFV this year, and 20% are planning on rolling it out next year -- a finding the study notes as overly ambitious. Enterprises are targeting the WAN for their initial deployments while service providers are targeting the data center, according to the report.

[Read how one enterprise expects its journey to software-defined networking will be a long haul in "SDN Is A Marathon, Goldman Sachs Says."]

The top driver for interest in open source SDN and NFV is a desire to avoid vendor lock-in (35% of those polled), followed by lower network acquisition and maintenance costs (34%).

Open source SDN isn't without its obstacles, though. The report shows that security is the top concern for companies when it comes to adoption of open source SDN/NFV: Nearly half of those polled cited security concerns, such as backdoors. About 35% expressed concern about reliability.

"Within the SDN and NFV movements, open source must overcome significant challenges -- both real and perceived -- before it fulfills on its promise of freedom, savings, and functionality," the report states.

Networking expert Tom Hollingsworth of Gestalt IT said the desire for open source in enterprises has grown substantially in the past few years.

"Engineers and architects alike feel more comfortable knowing that access to code will not be restricted in any way," he said. "With the drive toward DevOps and continuous improvement development models, knowing that the base functions in Hydrogen and future OpenDaylight releases can be built upon as needed gives project managers some breathing room when it comes to deciding the future of internal development releases."

Hollingsworth, a Network Computing contributor, added that security and code transparency has become a big concern in enterprises. "Only by looking at the code can security personnel be assured that everything is above board," he said.

Marcia Savage is managing editor at Network Computing.

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