Software-Defined Network (SDN) As Open Innovation

For this EMA, I will analyze Software-Defined Networks as a technological open innovation based in the concepts from known literature.

According to ONF, "Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is an emerging architecture that is dynamic, manageable, cost-effective, and adaptable…. This architecture decouples the network control and forwarding functions enabling the network control to become directly programmable and the underlying infrastructure to be abstracted for applications and network services." SDN is a technology because it meets Carroll (2017) third definition of technology:

  • an artefact as a product of science and engineering,
  • a mode of enquiry and actions aimed at solving problems,
  • a body of knowledge and practice.

Another well-known definition of technology is the way technology interacts with itself and its hierarchies, as described by Arthur (2011), when he said that “technology forms new elements - new technologies - from existing ones. Technology builds itself organically from itself…". Based on Carroll and Arthur’s definitions and adding to those the distinction between Process (what and how an organization will use to create a product) and Product (what will be delivered to the user/customer), we can categorize technology hierarchies as:

  • Product mode of enquiry and action - a new research method applied to a product.
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  • Product knowledge - the design, the architecture of the product.
  • Product artefacts are component technologies within the product.
  • Process knowledge is about the craft execution.
  • Process artefacts are the tools used in these systems and practices.
  • Process mode of enquiry - the development of a framework for process improvement.

In this case, SDNs fits in three of those categories:

  • First, it is Product Knowledge - SDN is a new software, a new network operational system.
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  • It’s also a Product Artefact, as SDN protocols allow the creation of a virtual network inside another network.
  • Another meaning for SDN is Product Inquiry and Action: a new methodology and research has been applied to an already established product - computer networks – to develop a new one.

In 1934, Schumpeter, the first classical theoretician of innovation, stated that innovation represents a radical act involving the introduction of a new element or the combination of old elements.

Rogers’ definition of innovation is quite broad and considers ideas, practices or objects that are perceived as new by the target audience (2003). He also described five fundamental qualities of an innovation that impact its adoption:

  • Relative advantage: it must be different or better, an improvement or something new.
  • Compatibility: It must be easy to adopt or must address an issue that's incurring a cost to your target audience.
  • Complexity: it must be feasible and easy to adopt.
  • Trialability: it must give the chance to the user to prove innovation before acquiring.
  • Observability: it must be easy to compare with the product that you want to replace.

Current network technologies do not meet all the requirements of users and companies, due to their complexity and the number of protocols used; they are usually developed and defined in isolation with proprietary protocols. Hence, scale a network and add more devices is task that became increasingly complex, since there is no interoperability between manufacturers. SDN architecture has emerged to overcome the problems of closed devices and proprietary software, facilitating innovation. SDN works by decoupling network functions from dedicated hardware devices – such as routers, firewalls and switches – and hosting them on a virtual machine, that could run in a standard x86 server. SDNs therefore meet all the five fundamental qualities of diffusion of innovation as described by Rogers:

  • Relative advantage: It's new, it's better.
  • Compatibility: It's compatible with the current network scenario.
  • Complexity: It's easy to use and simplifies the current product.
  • Trialability: It can be tested without the need of proprietary and expensive hardware.

According to Chesbrouer (2003), the mobility of knowledge makes it impossible to keep all the best talents and the most important knowledge within the R&D departments. Internal R&D departments are no longer the only source of innovation for organizations, thus, innovation becomes part of a flow that can either be from the internal to the external environment and vice versa, in a collaborative process. He named this approach ‘Open Innovation’. SDN development approach can be characterized an Open Innovation. SDN is maintained and regulated by The Open Networking Foundation. ONF is a user-driven non-profit organization focused on promoting the adoption of software-defined networking through open standards development. It was founded in 2011 and its members include representatives of universities and foundations, in partnership with telecom, semi-conductor, software and internet companies. They are responsible for introducing the Open Flow standard. The technological change from the current hardware‐centric static network to a software‐defined network is in its early stages. Eventually, SDN will have a wider impact on the connected world; being driven by BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, Cloud adoption and IoT (Internet-of-Things), among others.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
Cite this page

Software-Defined Network (SDN) As Open Innovation. (2024, Feb 25). Retrieved from

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