When any new technology is first adopted, misunderstandings and even potential exaggerations about its capabilities (or lack thereof) are inevitable.

In working with public-sector customers, we see this almost daily as software-defined networking (SDN) continues to emerge and evolve. Despite the growing hype surrounding SDN (or maybe because of it), many federal organizations remain puzzled by this technology and its benefits.

The consequence? Incorrect assumptions that ultimately prevent organizations from reaping the full benefits of SDN software-defined networking. With that in mind, we’ve debunked five of the most common misconceptions about this emerging technology. 

1. SDN is OpenFlow.

While you could consider OpenFlow to be the founding father of SDN (not to mention a crucial piece of the technology), it's not the only one.

As the first touch point to the new technology, many still equate the two and only pursue approaches based in OpenFlow. But today, SDN's definition transcends OpenFlow, having blossomed into something bigger and more complicated than just one particular protocol implementation. And, although some agencies have flexible personnel resources, time and funds to develop their solutions, the majority are taking on a task that many SDN vendors have already conquered.

Before assuming that OpenFlow provides the same benefits as SDN, research the solutions that are currently available and offer key benefits (including enhanced security and flexibility) right out of the box.

2. SDN requires programming skills.

Enabling customization through programmability is a primary tenet of SDN. As such, it’s easy to assume that SDN requires advanced programming skills. Consequently, many agencies have hesitated to adopt this technology because , especially in the federal space, they fear fearing they lack the skills, or that finding someone who does would prove too costly.

They needn't worry: Turnkey, vendor-supported solutions can be implemented without having to write a single line of code, while still leveraging your organization's existing skill sets. Best of all, they can actually decrease the manual tasks and operational overhead traditionally associated with network maintenance.

These platforms allow you to consume them via user-friendly graphical interfaces and uses SDN capabilities without programming against it. You can easily get acclimated, explore and ultimately drive your own customization using the application program interface (API) once you’re ready.

3. SDN requires a complete rip and replace.

Obviously, federal networks have stringent requirements for certifying new IT products. But SDN doesn't require a drastic or abrupt infrastructure overhaul to be productive. Moreover, there's actually no absolute benefit to gain from ripping and replacing your current networking technology. Instead, you can gradually introduce SDN to address a need for specific use cases.

When you introduce SDN to your network, you'll discover new opportunities, advantages and additional capabilities as it expands, opening the door for new services unavailable through your legacy system. A gradual move, rather than a full swap over, could offer a more graceful migration to SDN infrastructure.

4. SDN only pertains to data center networking.

While, yes, most SDN adoption currently exists in the data center space, this isn't the only place where SDN applies. Networking and security across an entire infrastructure can benefit from SDN.

As high-profile targets, federal agencies face intense scrutiny about infrastructure security. The new automation and centralized management capabilities offered by SDN can enhance the security of your existing infrastructure. SDN isn't just about data center networking — it also delivers added security for agencies that are constantly looking to increase their security standing.

5. SDN is years away from adoption in the federal space.

Believe it or not, SDN is no longer a vague concept that might affect us at some undetermined point in the future. Worldwide, both private- and public-sector organizations are reaping its advantages right now. 

Although SDN is currently more prevalent in the private sector, there are legitimate SDN deployments occurring in today's federal space. Government agencies are already using it to simplify networks and drive innovation with customization. That's right: They're not just thinking about it — they're actually using it today.

Take an honest assessment, and look at the potential SDN offers for your IT infrastructure. It may not be for everyone, but for some federal agencies, SDN could be the answer for improving their network automation and security needs.

Greg Stemberger is a principal solutions architect for Force 3.