SDN Market Is Real And Ready To Rock & Roll
While Software Defined Networking was expected to be just halfway up its climb of the infamous Peak of Inflated Expectation this year, according to the Gartner Hype Cycle, after which it would typically move through the succeeding stages — Trough of Disillusionment and Slope of Enlightenment before eventually, possibly reaching the Plateau of Productivity, SDN appears to be jumping the gun, says a new report from Infonetics Research. “Software-defined networking is real, and it’s here to stay,” said Infonetics’ Sam Barnett, directing analyst for data center and cloud.
According to the report, Data Center Deployment and SDN Strategies: North American Enterprise Survey, nearly 25% of the enterprises interviewed have already deployed SDN technology in their data centers, and 33% plan to do so by the end of next year. “This is impressive given the nascent nature of most SDN technologies and the relatively sophisticated IT community required to implement them.”
The concept of SDN has been around for a little while, with more varities, including the OpenFlow protocol, than the startups and companies like NEC, IBM and Cisco that were actively – or reactively – involved. “Software-defined networking is for networks what VMware was for servers,” said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research.
According to IDC, SDN was only expected to generate $200 million next year, and explode to $2 billion by 2016. Networking leader Cisco chose to come out with its own version of SDN, the Open Network Environment.
However the market got a big wake-up call when VMware announced in July it would buy Nicira, Inc. for $1.26 billion, a substantial premium for a young company with few paying customers. “We had a pretty tight engagement with Nicera and their annual run rate was under $100 million,” said Barnett. While the two companies had very close ties prior to the deal – including Diane Greene, a cofounder and former VMware CEO ousted several years ago by EMC, the majority owner of VMware, was an angel investor in Nicera – this was a lot of money to pay for “a technology that is largely unproven.”
Barnett said he was somewhat surprised by the extent of SDN activity, and there is a lot of confusion of what software-defined networking really means. He thinks the best definition out there is the one used by Margaret Chiosi, Executive Director – Global Optical & Ethernet Service Development, AT&T Labs. SDN enables network applications to request and manipulate services provided bgy the network and allow the network to expose network state back to the applications.
Another surprise in the survey was what the availability of an SDN-type solution would cause customers to do. Respondents said they would absolutely throw out their existing vendor. He said that’s a big surprise because once network vendors are selected, they tend to remain in place for a very long time.
Another surprise to Barnett, the survey found that the two biggest vendors referenced were Cisco – the network king – and IBM – lord of the data center. The two giants top the list of SDN and programmable network technology vendors installed and under evaluation, he said.
“I probably would not have stuck those two in there either… in general the larger the vendor is, the larger the portfolio, and the more visible, the better they tend to do. Cisco is doing a lot of SDN messaging, really pushing their views into the market… and IBM was one of the first in SDN (even if the product is rebranded NEC)”.
Despite the level of current and planned enterprise SDN activity, Barnett doesn’t know just how much activity is really there. “I would believe there is some piloting… or in very limited production cases… but would not believe there is much in full production.”
Looking ahead, he believes the market needs some high-profile success stories to support the SDN promise. There also needs to be greater standardization. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, at least for the SDN vendors, is how will they make their money?
Barnett said he talks to a lot of vendors, and the typical response is “we don’t know” and that’s scary. “So how do you pay for that investment, is it a checkbox item? Yes!”