Software-Defined Networking: There's More to It Than Just Hype
"SDN is very real for some of the big cloud providers … guys who are selling big Internet services," Gartner analyst Mark Fabbi told eWEEK. For enterprises, he added, it probably won't be until the fourth quarter that real deployments begin to take shape. Predictions call for rapid adoption of SDN technologies over the next few years. IDC analysts in December 2012 said SDN revenues will climb from $360 million this year to $3.7 billion by 2016. SDN startup Plexxi—along with the Website SDN Central and venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners—said in a report in April that the SDN market will grow from $252 million in 2012 to more than $35 billion by 2017. "This is definitely big," Lauren Cooney, senior director of software strategy and planning at Cisco, told eWEEK. What makes SDN big is the promise it holds for making the data center more dynamic and more flexible. At a time when cloud computing and virtualization are taking hold in the data center, and trends like big data are demanding greater automation from the resources there, the network has become the roadblock."The network is still in the mainframe era," Big Switch's Matlof said. "It's slow, you can't automate it and it drives vendor lock-in." Cisco's Cooney agreed, noting that the traditional data center network is loaded with protocols and is complex. "Networking typically has not been something I'd call easy and simple," she said. With SDN, that intelligence is taken out of the hardware infrastructure and placed into software-based controllers, making the network more programmable, more automated and less costly. Network applications and services can be created atop the SDN infrastructure, and SDN also allows for less vendor lock-in through open standards. "SDN will get us into a more real-time network infrastructure," Gartner's Fabbi said. "Compute is already there." It's just going to take time for SDN to get there. Right now the networking industry is in the early phases of what promises to be a long process, according to vendors and analysts. Cooney sees it as a rare technology transformation that comes along every eight to 10 years. "This fundamentally changes how you build applications and how you build a business," she said.
Where servers and storage have become more virtualized and dynamic, networking is anything but, with much of the network intelligence held in complex, expensive physical switches and routers that can take weeks and months to program.