Channel Partners Poised to Help Enterprises Build Software-Defined Networks

Enterprises replacing legacy network infrastructure are increasingly turning to software-defined networks, which can automate an entire network fabric. Having helped hosting companies and academic institutions, a variety of resellers, system integrators and consultancies are ready to bring SDN to the enterprise.

By John Moore
Tue, January 15, 2013

CIO — Software-defined networking (SDN) is an emerging field, subject to some confusion and very much an early-adopter exercise at the moment.

Channel partners—resellers, systems integrators and consultancies—often carve niches in such immature fields, providing advice and deployment help to customers who lack sufficient in-house knowledge. That tendency is beginning to play out in SDN. Technology vendors have already started recruiting integrators and other channel allies. The companies that seek to populate the SDN channel say they are studying the technology so they can be in a position to assist customers.

IT managers, however, suggest SDN adopters may or may not need channel support. Cloud service providers and academic institutions—who are considered the first wave of SDN deployment—typically possess deep technical skills and prefer to accumulate their own expertise rather than hire outsiders.

Related: Ex-Facebook Exec Pushes Software-Defined Networks

General enterprise adopters, on the other hand, will likely seek the help of SDN advisors and implementers, according to industry executives. They believe the channel will become a key conduit for SDN in the enterprise. "Enterprises are technology deployers, not developers," says Eric Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of ADARA Networks, which makes SDN software. "It is absolutely expected…and a certainty that SDN should be adopted through the channel."

SDN Poised to Replace Legacy Network Infrastructure

ADARA, and a host of other vendors ranging from established networking players to startups, target a market poised to rapidly expand. IDC projects that the worldwide SDN market will surge from $360 million in 2013 to $3.7 billion by 2016. For its part, ADARA works with three dozen partners in its year-old channel program and has deals with an additional 90 partners in the works, Johnson says.

Such lofty expectations are based on SDN's potential to revitalize network architecture. SDN provides a software layer that lets administrators centrally program switches and other network devices.

In a traditional network setting, a request for a new service prompts a series of manual configuration tasks as administrators work with standalone pieces of networking gear. SDN, however, lets administrators program and automate an entire network fabric. This flexibility dovetails with initiatives such as cloud computing, with its dynamic provisioning of resources.

Anthony Robbins, vice president of federal sales at Brocade Communications Systems, described SDN as an opportunity to address outmoded networking infrastructure. (Brocade in November disclosed plans to acquire on-demand networking vendor Vyatta in a bid to extend its SDN reach.)

"Network infrastructure today is old and full of products designed for client/server-type applications," Robbins explains. "As servers and the data center have become more and more virtualized, the traffic across the network…has changed dramatically. But there hasn't been a fundamental shift in the design of the network."

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