The software-defined networking market will hit $3.1 billion by 2017, with half of those revenues coming out of North America, according to market research firm Infonetics Research.
The firm is only the latest to forecast strong growth for software-defined networking (SDN), which promises more flexible, automated and programmable infrastructures by separating the network intelligence from the underlying hardware and housing it in software-based controllers.
Infonetics' report, issued Dec. 9, also comes as vendors and analysts expect the market to take a turn in 2014 to wider adoption and more deployments of SDN, which has become the highest-profile networking technology over the past couple of years.
"The important question that everyone wants answered is, 'What's the real market for SDN?'" Cliff Grossner, directing analyst for data center and cloud at Infonetics, said in a statement. "It's still early days, but our research over the last two years confirms that SDN controllers and Ethernet switches in use for SDN will play a role in enterprise and data center networks."
Grossner said larger enterprises and cloud service providers will be the first to bring wide-scale SDN deployments into their data centers. That already is playing out, with major service providers like Google, AT&T, Verizon and China Mobile among the early adopters. That will be followed by use in enterprise LANs, he said.
"We're already seeing significant use cases for SDN in the enterprise LAN providing security and unification of wired and wireless networks, and enabling BYOD [bring-your-own-device]," Grossner said.
Grossner's statements reflect what others are seeing in the SDN space. In a recent Webcast, Dave Ward, CTO of engineering and chief architect at Cisco, said that starting in 2014, real-world SDN platforms and applications will emerge.
In their report, the Infonetics analysts said that SDN is going through a "classic market adoption cycle," with most enterprises still taking a look at the technology while smaller vendors are looking to gain traction in the market against larger established players. They noted the wide range of vendors that rolled out SDN products this year, from Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Juniper Networks to Plexxi, Pica8, Plumgrid, VMware and Midokura.
In addition, a range of consortia are working on open SDN technologies, from the OpenDaylight Project to the Open Networking Foundation to the Open Compute Project.
By 2017, 10 percent of Ethernet switches will be used for SDN, the analysts said.
In 2012, IDC analysts said the SDN market will reach $3.7 billion by 2016, while Transparency Market Research in August pegged it at $3.52 billion by 2018. SDN startup Plexxi, Website SDNCentral and venture capital firm Venture Partners said they expect the SDN market to grow significantly faster, to $35 billion by 2018.