While the outlook for SDN – software-defined networking – appears to be getting better, mainstream adoption is still years away, by most reports. That’s not stopping Pica8, a self-proclaimed leader in open systems for SDN (250-plus customers), from launching the P-3297 open switch — three 48 x1GbE models, four options of 10GbE and plans for 40G platforms as well as Trident 2 VXLAN support – that is now shipping and lists at $4,690. Designed with a large TCAM, the new switch doubles the available memory space for OpenFlow rules, which dramatically increasing the scale of Broadcom Trident-based hardware and ensuring that it can be used by the OpenFlow community, said the company.
There are a number of elements behind the company’s strategy, said Steve Garrison, VP of Marketing, Pica8. “Customers don’t buy vitamin pills. They buy pain pills.”
So addressing network pain points is a big focus. “We’re trying to figure out things that got people stuck.”
Another is scale, and a third is the breadth of its portfolio. Then there’s migration. “Users don’t throw away anything.” So rip-and-replace is a non-starter, he said.
According to a recent survey from Enterprise Strategy Group, only 10% of organizations either have no interest or are not familiar enough with SDN to have a position. Of the other 90%, 39% are in the planning and evaluation stage, 27% have begun implementations, and the remaining 24% say they’re interested but have no SDN initiatives underway.
“It’s reflective of the fact that organizations need to change the way they’re doing networking today,” Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with ESG. “Everyone’s hoping SDN will help them make that change.”
Network security (65%) tops the list of services they have or intend to deploy, followed by network virtualization (62%), WAN optimization (57%) and network provisioning (55%). Respondents are also bullish on their SDN plans, with 47% planning to deploy it on their data center network, 25% focusing on the campus network, and 15% opting for enterprise-wide deployments. Just 14% are limiting their SDN efforts to branch or remote office networks.
“Organizations are recognizing the fact that the current legacy network really isn’t working for them,” said Laliberte. “It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in 18 months.”
In fact, just last summer, many organizations were still uncertain what SDN meant. Back then only 89% of organizations were at least discussing software defined networking, and only 51% could correctly define what it was.
“The Pica8 approach of having a Linux-based network OS with an external programming interface enabled by OpenFlow 1.3, is the broadest suite of 1G / 10G and 40G switches I have seen, offering customers enough breadth of compatible solutions to ensure they can build any network topology and not be locked into one model,” said Zeus Kerravala, Principal Analyst, ZK Research, in a prepared statement.
Another canned comment, from Tracy Corbo, Principal Research Analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, noted that the concept of white box networking equipment is evolving and developing hand in hand with network virtualization. “While existing network equipment has been tried and tested, commodity networking platforms have yet to prove their merits in production environments.”
Then there are the issues of backward compatibility and the time required to integrate the old and new, she stated. “Pica8 is providing a turnkey approach that enables IT shops to experiment with both bare metal switches and new technologies such as OpenFlow without having to build it all from scratch. At the same time they are providing support at Layer2/Layer3 to ensure backward compatibility with existing IT infrastructures.”
Vendor lock in is an ongoing concern. “While the data center market grows more receptive to the benefits of SDN, it is equally weary of vendor lock-in and unsure as to how to begin the process of developing SDN network infrastructure while maintaining or improving visibility via network taps for performance and security monitoring,” says Mike Fratto, Senior Analyst with Current Analysis. “Early on, Pica8 recognized the disconnect and is working to bridge this divide in hopes of accelerating SDN adoption.”
In a recent interview, Brocade’s Kelly Herrell, VP/GM, Software Business Unit, blamed Cisco for both the dissatisfaction with the high cost of networking hardware, and the growing interest in open systems. “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.”
In December 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.
“The most fundamental challenge with SDN is there’s not a lot of expertise in the trenches right now,” said Garrison. People have to learn, which involves a lot of trial and error. “So the message is how can I dabble, and dabble in a meaningful way?”
That’s what led to the December launch of the SDN Starter Kit, a fully configured ITALS out-of-the box kit (starting at $8,895) that was intended to help take the guesswork out of how to best initiate an SDN infrastructure. The kit includes: a CD loaded with Ryu, an open-source network controller developed by NTT Labs, a programmable network tap based on SDN technology, and an open-source network intrusion prevention and detection system developed by SNORT, as well as a pre-configured Pica8 open switch including PicOS, its open switch operating system. PicOS runs standards-based Layer-2/Layer-3 protocols with OpenFlow 1.3 / Open-vSwitch (OVS) v1.10 integration.
The starter kit drew a lot of interest, from colleges to Financial 500 companies that hadn’t yet started with SDN, said Garrison. With this week’s announcement Pica8 addresses another SDN pain point, white boxes. “You have to have certain critical mass before people adopt it.”
That would seem to be the case for both SDN, as well as Pica8. The good news is that interest in both seems to be growing.