The networking industry – builders, sellers and buyers – is in a state of tremendous turmoil as SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualization) gather momentum. Many may not know what they are, or how and when they’ll arrive, but they are convinced that they will change everything.
However, if change is coming – and it is – will it be evolutionary or revolutionary? Most agree that a rip ‘n replace strategy will not fly, but just how disruptive will these new technologies be? The approaching apocalypse of shifting from a hardware-based to a software-based approach when existing networks are staggering under exploding demands, limited budgets and competitive or non-existent standards is forcing vendors to fundamentally rethink how they build, deploy and operate networks, according to networking vendor Brocade. NFV is about leveraging commodity hardware while SDN is more about management automation and programmability, but the evolution of the data center network architecture from outside the server to inside the server is actually not disruptive, said Brocade’s Kelly Herrell, VP/GM, Software Business Unit.
“All you’re doing is extending the network infrastructure into the server, not replacing it.” He said it comes down to being able to manage highly virtualized requirements in a highly virtualized compute environment. In a virtual compute model there is a lot of traffic but a lot of that traffic is happening inside the server, and industry-standard hardware, especially Intel and its ability to already handle 10Gbps, are ramping up to handle the increasing workloads.
“The other question is absolute vs relative performance. This is where the IT industry, especially vendor, often gets caught up. Over the last 4 years our performance has improved 1000X on Intel (which) far outstrips progress inside the data center.”
Networking costs are too high, for which Herrell puts the blame squarely on Cisco. “Look at Cisco’s margins versus Dell, 70% versus 10%.” The reason is the use of proprietary technology, and that will no longer be accepted.
“Who has the heavier network traffic, telcos or enterprises? Telcos, and telcos unanimously believe you can utilize standard hardware to build their future networks.”
They believe that because they’ve done a lot of research and a lot of testing and benchmarking, he said. “If it’s good enough for the telcos, it’s probably good enough for enterprise data centers.”
Last month Research and Markets reported that the global market for SDN is expected to see a CAGR of 61.5% between 2012-2018. Of the four major solutions – SDN switching, SDN controllers, cloud provisioning and orchestration and others (security and services) – cloud provisioning and orchestration holds the majority of the market share followed by SDN switching and SDN controllers. Another recent survey puts the anticipated growth at 600% over the next five years. A third report puts the value of the SDN market as more than $3.5 billion by 2018, with cloud service providers being the fastest growing segment of end users. IDC is even more bullish, predicting that the market for SDN technologies will grow to $3.7 billion by 2016 from $360 million in 2013.
There are multiple reasons why we need SDN/NFV or their alternatives, starting with the frequent claim that today’s networks are broken. According to a Brocade study last summer, although 75% of enterprises have updated their IT environments in the last three years, 91% of IT decision-makers stated that their current IT infrastructures still require substantial upgrades, 61%, said their networks are not fit for the intended purpose, and 33% experience multiple network failures each week. The bottom line is still the bottom line, and 41% admitted that network downtime has caused their business financial hardship either directly — through lost revenue or breached SLAs — or from their customers’ lack of confidence.
Then there are the major market disruptors like Big Data, cloud, mobility and the Internet of Things. Network traffic is expected to grow 600% for cloud traffic and 400% for data center traffic by 2016; mobile app store downloads were expected to almost double last year to 102 billion; smartphone shipments were expected to surpass 1 billion units for the first time in a single year; and, the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to explode to 50 billion devices connected by 2020, with a value of $14.4 trillion.
So while the need for SDN/NFV is accelerating, so too are the capabilities of the x86 server platform, said Herrell. “The server is really where the heart of the change is happening.”
He said customers can learn a lot from what the cloud service providers are already doing. “It’s proven and evolutionary.”
Herrell thinks people worry too much about having to invent some grand five-year strategy. “Yes. they need the strategy but can begin implementing it now. You don’t have to do a rip and replace.”