SDN in Enterprise Moving Past the Hype, Survey Finds

More businesses are using or planning to adopt SDN, and they have a broad array of vendor options to choose from, a Quinstreet Enterprise survey says.

network virtualization

Software-defined networking and other network virtualization technologies continue to move beyond the hype phase as more end users launch deployments and more vendors roll out more offerings, according to a new survey looking at the space.

Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said they are either currently using software-defined networking (SDN) in their environments or will deploy the technology within the next 12 months, according to the survey, "SDN Growth Takes IT Infrastructure by Storm", conducted by QuinStreet Enterprise (publisher of eWEEK). That percentage goes up to 49 percent when the timeframe is widened to deployment plans within 13 to 24 months. Another 25 percent are considering the technology, but have yet to set up a timeline.

The numbers show a significant increase in deployments and planned adoption of SDN from a similar survey conducted by QuinStreet Enterprise two years ago.

The recently released survey paints a picture of a rapidly growing market that not only includes an increase in the number of deployments, but also a broadening landscape of deployment options, vendor choices and standards efforts. Other network virtualization technologies, including virtual LANs (VLANs) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) also are being embraced, though SDN and NFV look to have the most momentum going into the future.

VLANs, which offer more limited virtualization capabilities and have been around for more than three decades, seem to be hitting the ceiling as far as adoption, the survey found.

"Like SDN, VLANs are configured through software rather than hardware," the authors said in the summary of the survey. "A VLAN offers nowhere near the flexibility of an SDN architecture, however. In an SDN architecture, the ability to configure, manage, secure and optimize network resources via software affords many benefits to enterprises."

The projected growth in the survey mirrors what industry analysts are saying in their projections for the market. IDC analysts last year in their annual projection for SDN growth forecast that revenue in the space will hit $8 billion by 2018. Research and Markets analysts have said the worldwide SDN should grow to $11.5 billion between now and 2020, with enterprises and carriers running pilot programs and early deployments this year and next and the technology going mainstream between 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, investments in SDN and NFV will reach $20 billion by 2020, they said.

SDN and NFV decouple the control plane and various networking tasks—including routing, firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, and load balancing—from the underlying hardware and put them into software that can run on low-cost commodity systems, including switches and servers. The goal is to enable businesses to build networks that are easier to program, scale and manage, that are more agile and flexible, and that cost less than traditional infrastructures.

Cost savings is a key driver, according to the survey. Fifty-three percent of respondents said it was a top benefit, followed by 47 percent who cited improved network performance, 46 percent who said increased productivity and 45 percent who said improved security. Interestingly, 47 percent also said cost savings was the biggest challenge—topping the list—followed by integration/interoperability (42 percent), security (37 percent) and choosing the right deployment model (35 percent).

"Deciding to use an SDN architecture brings with it further choices, starting with which platform to use," the survey's authors wrote. "Organizations must choose a cloud-based deployment, virtual switches, bare metal or a combination of the three."

According to the survey, users right now are choosing a cloud model (28 percent) over virtual switches (13 percent) and bare-metal systems (6 percent). However, 53 percent of respondents said they were using a combination of the three deployment models.

"With cloud-based SDN, networking appliances can be easily updated," the authors wrote. "This is the primary reason respondents from enterprises of all sizes choose the cloud for their SDN deployments."

Once in the cloud, most businesses are turning to the open-source OpenStack platform and its Neutron networking project. Half the respondents—primarily larger enterprises and smaller businesses—said OpenStack was very important or extremely important. "Curiously, OpenStack doesn't resonate as deeply with midsize entities, only about one-third of which consider it very or extremely important," the authors wrote.