Will Software-defined Networking Bring a Change For The Better in 2015?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, Turn and face the strange, Ch-ch-changes
  -David Bowie

Change may be an enduring theme in 2015. Geopolitically, economically, and of course, technologically. A quick scan of the day’s headlines only serves to confirm that changes (some quite scary) are rapidly taking place in each of these three areas. On a more personal level, 2015 has ushered in some very exciting changes as I joined the very talented ranks of the ESG team. As their newest IT infrastructure analyst, I’ll be focusing on how the software-defined data center (with a concentration on software-defined networking [SDN]) can help organizations transform or effect “change” to improve the vitality and health of their businesses.

While I am not new to the IT industry analyst role, I am (obviously) new to ESG and in my first few weeks here, what has immediately impressed me is the passion and dedication of the people that work here. Many “ESGers” have been here for 5 - 10 years or more. In an industry where people move about like desert nomads looking for the next oasis, it’s actually quite refreshing (no pun intended) to see that people have made a home here. And from an industry knowledge standpoint, the analysts, researchers, lab engineers, client service personnel, and general support staff are superb. I’m looking forward to working with my new colleagues on producing content that will help our clients gain deeper insights and knowledge into the direction of the SDN market.

From a software-defined data center (SDDC) standpoint, heading into 2015, it seems as though SDN may have reached a key tipping point. ESG research has found that the majority (66%) of organizations are committed to an SDN strategy long-term, and this will be a year in which many of those plans are increasingly put into action.  While many of the true SDN early adopters are service providers, they are helping to define the market and set the direction that the broader enterprise market will follow. And the fact that SDN is in full production in hyper scale data center environments like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft is indicative of the long-term viability of the technology. 

Identifying the specific use cases that are helping to drive SDN adoption will be one research area that I plan to initially focus on. Interestingly, according to ESG research, an oft-cited concern of IT professionals is that traditional networking environments are fraught with too many manual processes. This in turn can hamper the speed and agility of IT organizations.

Thanks to server virtualization, most organizations can rapidly spin up new application services on-demand. The problem is that, in large part, traditional data center networks are still managed as a collection of physical devices. Consequently, configuring and provisioning network resources and network services (like DNS, caching, load balancing, security, etc.) has become a major bottleneck in the IT supply chain. SDN can potentially be the vehicle to enable greater automation in the data center and empower IT organizations to become more agile and more responsive to the needs of the business. 

In short, SDN is the next logical wave in the broader data center virtualization trend. There is certainly no shortage of players in the SDN space – from well-established incumbents to industry startups. Technologies like Cisco’s ACI, VMware’s NSX, Brocade’s Vyatta, Nuage’s VSP, and Pluribus’ Netvisor OS (amongst others) can be SDN cornerstones that further enable IT organizations to lay the foundation for the SDDC.

Closely aligned with SDN is network functions virtualization or NFV – another area I will be following closely. Through NFV, a whole range of network services, like network monitoring and management, deep packet inspection, intrusion protection services, etc., can be centrally managed, automated, and spun up on-demand through an SDN platform. This is all about self-monitoring and potentially self-healing networks that can run autonomically. Vendors like NetScout, Gigamon, Ixia, VSS Monitoring, and a whole host of security service providers are designing their solutions to snap-in to SDN/NFV frameworks to drive the automation, simplicity, and speed that businesses need to compete in an increasingly 24x7xforever world. 

For IT planners and practitioners, determining an SDN strategy that aligns with the needs of the business while being minimally disruptive can be just as much an art as well as a science. And as with any major technology paradigm shift comes uncertainty and no small degree of fear. It has often been said that the only antidote to fear and uncertainty is knowledge. It is our collective goal at ESG to clear the turbidity in the market waters to help IT decision makers gain the insights they need to make the right decisions. And in so doing, bring positive change.  

Topics: Networking