While Cisco Figures Out What To Do With SDN, SDN Is Figuring Out What To Do With Cisco

shrugWhile the world — at least the networking component — awaits Cisco’s SDN coming-out party on November 6, the momentum for software-defined networking continues to accelerate. As networking’s 800-pound gorilla, Cisco and its $850 million spin-in, Insieme Networks, will no doubt have a major impact, but just how major, and when, remains to be seen.

The November launch, reportedly postponed from October’s InterOp New York, will ‘usher in a new era of simplicity and automation for data centers worldwide’, as the Cisco unit unveils its ‘application-centric infrastructure’.

However, while Cisco figures out what to do with SDN, SDN appears to be figuring out what to do with Cisco. That may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but in a Cisco-dominated networking world, it’s not that much of an exaggeration.

A new report predicts that the SDN market will be worth $3.52 billion by 2018, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 61.5% from 2012 to 2018. Enterprises accounted for 35% of the market in 2012, but cloud service providers are expected to be the fastest growing end user segment in the coming years. In terms of solutions, cloud provisioning and orchestration dominate the SDN market.

Another new study predicts that SDN and NFV (network functions virtualization) are poised to revolutionize carrier OSS and profoundly change the way service providers manage their networks. “SDN and NFV are disruptive from a management perspective because they require change at every level: in employee skillsets, process reengineering and automation, and new OSS capabilities,” notes Caroline Chappell, Senior Analyst with Heavy Reading and author of the report.

Bringing all this together will take a lot of effort and time, she said. “The market is at an extremely early stage, and NFV is likely to involve at least a ten-year migration.”

Still, there are a lot of vendors, from existing players like Cisco, VMware, HP, Dell and Silver Peak, as well as start-ups, who are jockeying for position in the emerging SDN market. Many of these companies belong to OpenDaylight, the association formed to facilitate a community-led, industry-support, open-source framework for SDN.

OpenDaylight is arguably the most important project in the fledgling genre of SDN, according to a recent story from Dave Cartwright in The Register. OpenDaylight has already established itself as the focal point for SDN-related developments, with its first release scheduled for a month after Cisco/Insieme’s November launch.

Another industry body, the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) Carrier Working Group, has just completed a document addressing the transport network relevant part of an SDN architecture. A number of carriers are using it to develop an SDN framework document that will provide future SDN-related specifications and implementation agreements, as well as give structure to future OIF interoperability demonstrations.

“I am more than happy that we have achieved our first milestone in defining carrier requirements on Transport SDN,” said Hans-Martin Foisel of Deutsche Telekom and the OIF Carrier Working Group chair and OIF board member. “This will not only guide our next steps in the creation and implementation of technology to support Transport SDN but also will focus our communications with other SDOs and forums so that we can work together to streamline the different aspects of Transport SDN.”

One cautionary note about the surging interest in SDN: it doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper networking. Rather than spending less, IT will spend the same, just differently.

Network hardware will get cheaper because it must be replaced and upgraded more often in the years ahead; and new silicon will lower power consumption, support overlay networking and increase forwarding performance to compel faster product churn. However, the theory is that while unit prices drop, overall network spending will remain the same because of the need to replace hardware more often.

The price of the network OS (NOS) on the device is also likely to fall in the years ahead because a key value of SDN platforms such as VMware NSX is that network services will be provided in a hypervisor or in a virtual machine. So while hardware and related software prices will go down, enterprises still have to pay the additional cost for SDN controllers and applications.

Regardless of how long it will take for SDN (and NFV) to dominate the networking industry, and the cost challenges for both sellers and buyers, its arrival appears as certain as these things ever do. The fact that Cisco is finally anteing up to the biggest game in networking is just further proof of the arrival of SDN.

However, while Cisco is figuring out what to do with SDN, the SDN ecosystem is figuring out what to do with Cisco and every other proprietary networking vendor. This is a race Cisco and friends cannot afford to lose; a tie is okay, but an out-and-out loss would be devastating.

  • john_s

    How do you talk about SDN and not mention Juniper Networks which has delivered a SDN solution already? Yet mention DELL? Credibility = Lost

    • Steve Wexler

      Juniper is your choice of SDN standard bearer? And you talk about my credibility.
      There are hundreds — if not thousands — of companies selling, marketing and/or working on SDN products, services, standards and whatever. I did not mention virtually any of them, who for the most part, will be relegated to a future trivia question: Name which major (legacy) vendor (not named Juniper) bought them?