2015: A New Year and a New Network

The changing of the year inspires a unique perspective, one that takes the long view both backwards and forwards. This is why the trade press is so full of year-end wrap-ups and year-ahead predictions around the holidays: the end of one year and the imminent arrival of another provide a chance to pause, reflect, and, well, think.

For networking, the major trend for the coming year is not hard to predict. It’s a three-word phrase that rhymes with “oftware efined etworking.” To say that 2015 is the year SDN will break big in the enterprise is like saying the sun will come up tomorrow. But beyond that, there are a variety of notions as to how it will happen and why it matters to the enterprise.

Why SDN will matter in 2015—and where software defined networking may fall short

Ajay Waghray, CIO of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, sees SDN deployment in light of the many challenges that the enterprise faces, primarily in the form of advancing user capabilities and new ways of communicating. As he told the Wall Street Journal:

“The growing demands of video and mobile solutions are becoming tied to outcomes that matter to business.”

As users start to embrace the new data paradigm on their own, enterprises need to engage as well, or risk losing control of their business processes. This can only be done through a more agile and scalable network that can quickly and easily accommodate a wide variety of architectural configurations. In other words, a software defined network.

With more experience comes greater knowledge, however, and as the enterprise becomes familiar with the ins and outs of SDN, its limitations will emerge. In the words of Cirba co-founder Andrew Hillier, these “practical realities” include the ability to transcend physical networks and clustered resource boundaries, but also a greater strain on storage connectivity and workload management. It’s kind of like removing all the fences on a farm. The animals have greater freedom of movement, but you still need a way to get them from place to place.

Beyond SDN: Ethernet and the Internet of Things

Though all eyes will be on SDN in the coming year, significant developments elsewhere on the stack deserve notice, too. As Vitesse Semiconductor’s Martin Nuss notes, 2015 will see Ethernet take over the Internet of Things, which means it will literally be everywhere, from the silicon that powers the smartphone, car, TV and washing machine, to the network infrastructure of the largest telecommunications firms. The Ethernet standard has proven to be remarkably resilient over the years and has in fact co-opted many of the specialized features that once justified the use of narrower solutions like ControlNet and Fieldbus. This doesn’t necessarily change anything for the data center, but it is an example of a single format becoming a de facto standard through sheer determination.

Networking innovation drivers of 2015

The wider forces driving all this networking activity are far-reaching and profound, says Veeam vice president Don Williams. For one thing, the “always-on” business is now a common occurrence across the globe, which means infrastructure needs to become more distributed and more automated. It is also likely that we will see more than 26 billion data-generating devices by the end of the decade. The enterprise will need to find a way not only to retrieve, process and store substantial data volumes, but to manage and analyze the information they hold as well. This is a need that many already recognize.

The idea that the only constant is change certainly applies to network infrastructure. 2015 is not likely to be a watershed year for enterprise networking because the pathway ahead is fairly clear and the results, at least the immediate ones, are significant.

The narrative for the coming year won’t be about the technology, then, but the growing awareness of what it brings to the enterprise table. More than ever, networking solutions must be business enablers—not limiters.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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