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The SDN Revolution

By Ronald Gruia, Director, Frost and Sullivan

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Ronald Gruia, Director, Frost and Sullivan

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is one of the hottest new topics in the networking industry, as attested not only by all the headlines this architectural shift has gotten in the past year, but also by the intense activity within this market segment. Additionally, more than $400 million of venture capital was invested in SDN startups and over $1.5 billion in acquisitions related to the technology. Current trends such as agile development and the dev-ops movement are also contributing to a higher interest in SDN.

SDN represents a new paradigm within the networking industry, yielding more efficient, scalable, agile and dynamic networks, by increasing programming and automation. Its main benefits are reduced operational costs, lower capital expenditures (via improved resource utilization), faster provisioning, a marked improvement in the performance of networks and the promise of a more open, standards-based architecture, which enables a wider choice of suppliers for companies adopting SDN.

There are three key distinctive features in SDN architecture:
• Separation of the control plane from the data plane
• A centralized controller and view of the network
• Programmability of the network by external applications
The uptake of SDN will come from three market segments: enterprises, carriers and hyperscale datacenters (such as Amazon and Google).

Enterprise Segment

The enterprise sector represents one of the low-hanging fruit for the technology, as firms seek to optimize their data centers. With the advent of SDN and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), the control software can now manage any switch from any vendor, in the same way as operating systems such as Linux and Microsoft can run on any generic PC or server. In an SDN topology, core capabilities such as networking and storage are decoupled from the compute server (typically an x86 server). This enables alternative architectural options for compute, networking, security, storage and other capabilities (such as switchable memory) to be flexibly hooked up via a standardized rack in the data center. All of these efficiencies allow for the design of more flexible and flatter networks, resulting in CAPEX savings of potentially 50 percent (in terms of networking costs).

"With the advent of SDN and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), the control software can now manage any switch from any vendor, in the same way as operating systems"

Vertical segments such as healthcare and financial institutions such as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs have been testing SDN in greenfield deployments. A broader uptake will most likely take place in 2015, once other use cases besides the data center take hold.

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