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What to Expect Next from SDN

July 2013 SDN BLogThe buzz around software defined networking (SDN), an approach that abstracts control from network endpoints to a centralized process in software, is getting louder and louder. SDN is poised to improve security, network efficiency, and flexibility while reducing complexity. But, shouldn’t your organization have an understanding of how SDN will infiltrate the network community?

Rather than a quick implementation of SDN into the industry, we will see a progressive transition as SDN infiltrates the market place. The evolution of SDN can be broken into three phases, one which is currently underway, and two that are likely to occur over the next three to five years. Since SDN is going to overhaul network management, it’s critical for organizations to clearly understand when adoption should occur and what hurdles to overcome in order to reap the benefits of SDN.

Hype or Here to Stay?
According to a 2013 survey of more than 200 large organizations in the U.S. and Canada by Tail-f Systems, 87% of respondents consider SDN an important technology initiative, surpassing virtualization, mobility, and even the cloud. These numbers suggest SDN is more than just hype. In fact, it’s well on its way to becoming the next generation of network management. According to market intelligence firm IDC, the SDN market is projected to grow to $2 billion by 2016. Given these predictions, it’s no surprise that industry heavyweights are also recognizing the potential impact of the SDN market. VMware, Inc., a global leader in virtualization, recently acquired Nicira, Inc., a pioneer in the SDN arena, for more than $1.2 billion. Brocade also made a move with its 2012 purchase of Vyatta, an SDN development firm.

Phase 1: Laying the Foundation
The first phase of the SDN revolution is currently underway and nearing completion. It involves abstracting the “brains” from network entities such as switches and routers and transitioning them into one centralized software process. By relying on one central part of the network to make forwarding decisions, organizations increase security and reduce network complexity.

A 2012 report by InformationWeek finds that four percent of the 250 IT organizations surveyed have already implemented SDN. Another 5% of IT organizations are currently testing it. Those willing to become early adopters of SDN have the potential to set the stage for other organizations and realize a variety of benefits, including improved network utilization and efficiency and the automation of provisioning and management. Another 48% are only somewhat familiar with the concept.

Tail-f Systems’ survey found similar results. Although 92% of organizations surveyed believe their understanding of SDN is “pretty good” or even “complete,” only about half chose a correct definition of SDN. As phase two of SDN’s evolution emerges, it’s likely organizations will better understand exactly what SDN is and how it will impact business.

Phase 2: SDN Comes to Market
The second phase of SDN’s journey involves participation from vendors such as Cisco, HP, and Juniper. Each will create and perfect its own software-based controllers. Some vendors are creating proprietary extensions, while others are taking a more open approach to their controllers. Even some third-party independent software-based controllers are emerging from start-up companies such as Big Switch Networks.

According to Kash Shaikh, Senior Director of Product and Technical Marketing at HP Networking, HP is taking an aggressive approach to SDN. HP currently offers 40 switches that support OpenFlow—the open-source network controller—and has sold more than 20 million switch ports that are OpenFlow-capable.

Since many features are still in their infancy, organizations adopting SDN in its early years will need to ensure that controllers and switches are from the same vendor in order to maintain consistency within the network. This may cause frustration for organizations looking to get controllers and switches for the best price, because they are tied to the same vendor.

Phase 3: SDN Goes Mainstream
Over the next five years, SDN will continue to evolve, and more organizations will begin adopting it—at which point, controllers and switches will reach equilibrium. During this stage, organizations will be able to select controllers and switches from multiple vendors that can work in harmony with one another. This presents an advantage, because network administrators will no longer be dependent on a single vendor—as they have been in the past. They can compare costs and select the hardware that best fits their organizations’ needs. Thus, as the mass adoption of SDN technology occurs, more organizations will start to realize the benefits currently being promoted by SDN’s supporters.

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