An SDN for Every Market

There is little doubt that SDN is going to be big. But how big? And will it really be the transformative technology that major backers claim?

These days, research reports are a dime a dozen, and top vendors have a way of spinning numbers any way that suits them. All those conflicting reports from reputable research houses make it difficult to determine where the truth lies. In the case of SDN, it may be in the eye of the beholder.

New data from Infonetics, for example, predicts a total market for SDN Ethernet switches and controllers of $9.5 billion by 2018. This is driven largely by a jump of 192 percent in 2013 alone and will likely be fueled both by leading vendors like Cisco and Brocade and the white box manufacturers who have gained a foothold in the hyperscale deployments of Google and Facebook. With many lab trials due to transition to full-field deployments within the next year or so, movement of SDN products and services is likely to remain solid.

At the same time, Transparency Market Research is projecting 61.5 percent compound annual growth for SDN between now and 2018, with estimates of a total market value of only $3.5 billion. True, different researchers make different assumptions regarding growth and trends, and may even define markets differently, but this is a pretty big discrepancy. So if the people who are taking a close look at the SDN market cannot even agree what it is and how much it is worth, is it fair to say that the market itself is still in a fairly tumultuous stage and therefore exceedingly difficult to predict?

The picture gets murkier if we widen the lens just a bit. When Gartner decided to take a look at today’s geopolitical situation and how it will likely affect data center growth in general, the outlook is a lot more ominous. Disruptive competition, the growth of the cloud and even nationalism and economic warfare are all poised to take their toll. The company’s Joe Skorupa put it bluntly:

Underneath this calm surface, increasing market pressures are driving a change in vendor behaviors, which, along with the four disruptive factors, make the market ripe for a period of major disruption. These behaviors will become more obvious as the pace of change increases.

Gartner says that existing assumptions regarding the growth of the data center industry are unlikely to be realized because they are based primarily on current trends and the habits of both IT end users and the vendor community, two groups that are resistant to change. 

But is this simply a case of Gartner being too pessimistic? After all, when have market forces, economic warfare and nationalism not been present on the world stage? Even those who say SDN poses a particular threat to a company like Cisco could be missing out on a golden opportunity, says Deutsche Bank’s Brian Modoff. With its custom APIC strategy and focus on software defined cloud architectures, Modoff says, Cisco is playing right into the strengths that SDN brings to the enterprise, namely, the ability to automate time- and labor-intensive network functions and port entire business applications onto cloud infrastructure. Other network firms, like F5, Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent, also seem to have good handles on the SDN movement even as white box manufacturers like Cumulus target low-level switching for web-scale customers like Amazon. In other words, SDN is expanding the networking market, rather than cannibalizing the old guard.

So in reality, what we are seeing is the divergence of the multiple components of the networking space – everything from SMBs and SoHos to massive webscale presences – into largely independent sub-markets, each with its own unique user requirements and the platforms to meet them. In this world, the enterprise does not have to worry about rushing to hyperscale unless its own data loads are leading in that direction.

And with networks defined in software, it will be that much easier to ensure that everyone can get just what they need.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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