Cruising Down The Info Highway In A Shiny New SeDaN

HighwayMuch like the old IBM joke about how good things will be when they get here, almost everybody is talking about how good networking will be when software-defined networking is finally here. However, while most everybody is talking about SDN, and the timing is subject to debate (i.e. sooner/Dell and later/Cisco), the reason why everybody is talking — the promised benefits — are very clear.

Even more significant is that these are not nice-to-have-sometime-in-the-foreseeable-future benefits, but instead OMG-we-need-this-help-now necessities. Most enterprises see the need for substantial network upgrades, and 33% experience multiple network failures each week, while 61%, said their networks are not fit for the intended purpose. The network problems include multiple weekly failures and network downtime that has cost them money and customers.

With networking demand and challenges growing exponentially, SDN appears to be keeping pace. Sources put the growth at more than 600% over the next five years, with market projections ranging from $3.7B by 2016, and a compound annual growth rate of 61.5% from 2012 to 2018.

But wait, SDN’s future is not as far away as it might seem, and Cisco’s involvement is much stronger than its most recent anti-SDN activities would seem to indicate. In a recent conversation with Alan Conley, the CTO of Zenoss, which focuses on automating IT operations for modern data centers, the former Cisco CTO said we will see the market start to take off in 2014. “Although I think it has a way to go… (and) won’t hit the mainstream for a number of years… (we) will see early adopters in 2014.”

In his 2014 predictions Conley said this will be the year of the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), and SDN “will see a rise in popularity as early adopter companies realize the ability to deploy vendor solutions.” SDN’s value has been heavily attributed to off-box control planes allowing for low-cost switching fabrics, he said, but “the real value stems from the ability to provide a policy-driven abstraction layer over the network. This general concept — of being able to describe the needs of an application/tenant in an abstract form in terms of computing, network, and storage — will really catch on in 2014.”

Conley, who said Cisco’s interest in, and commitment to, SDN is strong and goes back many years, stated vendors with the ability to develop application models that can be rapidly deployed by taking advantage of these abstractions will pave the way for the rapid adoption of SDN. So Cisco’s new Application Centric Infrastructure initiative just might deliver on the promise of up to 75% TCO savings compared to merchant silicon-based competitor switches and software-only network virtualization solutions.

New research reports that 14% of participating US enterprises have already deployed SDN, with 15% planning on deploying it in the next 12 months. Another 33% are considering SDN, while 39% indicated that they had no plans to deploy (but will be updating their resumes and circulating them once their current employers suffer catastrophic network failure*). Key objectives for SDN were improved uptime and availability (81%) and enhanced security (76%).

Another new survey found that increased data center virtualization will drive enterprises to develop SDN pilot projects in 2014, and network security will remain a priority. Between now and sometime in 2015 we’re going to hit a tipping point where more than 50% of the servers in the enterprise data center will become virtualized, said Cliff Grossner, directing analyst for data center and cloud at Infonetics.

An increasingly virtualized data center is setting the groundwork for enterprises to start testing out SDN deployments. Infonetics found that respondents currently have 2% of their ports set aside for SDN, but that will grow to 8% by 2015.

Gestalt IT’s Tom Hollingsworth said SDN will be “crazy” in the coming year, but it’s also going to take time to prove itself. He is keeping an eye on companies such Brocade, HP and Dell that are working with OpenFlow, potentially negating the need for proprietary controllers.

Like Hollingsworth, Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, sees SDN playing a role in improving security as SDN vendors acquire security capabilities or come out with products and services with their ecosystem partners to address security. “Not every network vendor is a security vendor so you’ll see those partnerships blossoming,” he said.

Whether it’s extending and/or improving network performance and reliability, or dealing with BYOD and growing security threats, SDN appears to be emerging as a legitimate — i.e. at least elements of it can be purchased and deployed now — option. Anybody want to cruise the Information Highway in a new SeDaN?

* Not a part of the findings, but should have been.

Image credit: DilutedPhotography (deviantART)