Software-defined networking continues to get a lot of attention from organizations, vendors and the media, but it could take a while for technology to see widespread deployment, according to a new study looking at trends in the data center.
At the same time, for those businesses that are looking to deploy software-defined networking (SDN) in their data center environments, most of them are opting for larger, established networking vendors that can offer solutions on converged infrastructures rather than smaller, software-only companies, the survey found.
That's good news for vendors like Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Juniper Networks, VMware and Dell that are rapidly building out their solutions in a burgeoning SDN and network-function virtualization market that includes a range of smaller startups like Plexxi, Embrane and Adara Networks looking to gain traction in the space.
The study, "2014 Data Center Outlook: Data Center Transformation—Where Is Your Enterprise?", was conducted by QuinStreet Enterprise (publisher of eWEEK) and Palmer Research, which surveyed 321 IT professionals to gauge what is happening in the evolving data center.
The study found that SDN, despite the amount of attention it's gotten over the past couple of years, is still an emerging technology and has relatively small penetration in the enterprise. SDN holds the promise of creating more scalable, flexible, programmable and cost-effective networks by removing the network intelligence from underlying complex and expensive hardware and placing it into software-based controllers.
In data centers, where server virtualization is rampant and storage virtualization is ramping up, networks are seen as bottlenecks that are time-consuming to program. The QuinStreet Enterprise survey sums up what other studies have found: While SDN is a point of conversation in many organizations, they're holding off on adopting it right now.
Less than 30 percent of those surveyed by QuinStreet Enterprise have deployed or plan to deploy SDN in the next 12 months, while another 40 percent have no plans to implement the technology. In a post earlier this year on the No Jitter blog site, Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, wrote: "Most companies I talk to couldn't give two hoots about SDN. Additionally, most application developers really have no concept of how to leverage an SDN to build more intelligent applications."
There are exceptions, Kerravala said. Many service providers are looking at SDN to help them enable virtual services and more easily manage the network, he said.
Also earlier this year, Cisco officials found that 71 percent of respondents to a survey said they plan to deploy SDN this year for a range of reasons, from creating more programmable networks to reducing costs. At the same time, 34 percent said that thus far, they had seen an actual SDN deployment as often as they'd seen Elvis, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
That said, vendors are looking for ways to accelerate adoption of the technology. HP in September announced it was launching an SDN developer kit and an SDN app store to make it easier for organizations to embrace the technology. Pica8 in December unveiled its own SDN Starter Kit, which will become generally available in January.
QuinStreet Enterprise's survey also found that of those businesses planning to deploy SDN, almost three-quarters will look for an outside vendor, and that "large networking vendors that can provide a solution within the framework of converged infrastructure (39 percent) are far more popular than software-based solutions in which hardware is virtualized and centrally managed (32 percent). Just over one-fourth of enterprises are opting for an internally developed approach to SDN."
Those deploying SDN technology are seeing a range of benefits, from improved uptime and availability (81 percent) to better security (76 percent) to easier backups (71 percent), the survey found.
All of the top networking vendors are building their SDN capabilities. HP has outlined a broad SDN strategy that includes wide support for the OpenFlow protocol, a data center SDN fabric and its SDN Sentinel Security software. Cisco in November unveiled its Application Centric Infrastructure initiative that includes SDN capabilities. Juniper, Dell and Extreme Networks also have broad SDN strategies.
Analysts see a strong future for SDN. Infonetics Research sees the market hitting $3.1 billion by 2017, while Transparency Market Research sees it reaching $3.52 billion by 2018. Plexxi, Website SDNCentral and venture capital firm Venture Partners see big things happening, with the SDN market reaching $35 billion by 2018.