Software Defined Networking (SDN), a much talked about technology in 2014, is now apparently becoming a need for the enterprise world and this in turn has created a plethora of opportunities for vendors and partners. It can be said that big names like Juniper, Avaya and Brocade are soon going to collide, to occupy as much space as possible in this domain.
However, it cannot be denied that deriving and harvesting the benefits of new age technologies determines its effectiveness and longevity.
“SDN is not a market in itself. It is a new way of doing networking. SDN is a subset of networking market. It is like buying software to control switches and routers,” said Nareshchandra Singh, principal research analyst, Gartner.
Andre Kindness, principal analyst, Forrester Research, on the other hand said that there are no clear indications to date that SDN radically reduces costs, but he agrees that there will be a shift in how network spending is allocated, with a surge in software spending.
The Clans Clash
“SDN have been implemented in number of customer case, primarily by customers who are at the leading edge of technology globally. SDN is a technology that will come along with some amount of doubt and confusion. If the technology lives up to its promises, then it will definitely see traction,” Singh said.
Although, analysts are a bit pessimistic about SDN, companies like Brocade, Juniper and Avaya are quite hopeful that it will boost their business in 2015.
SDN providers are today coming up with new initiatives to make the enterprise world aware of the advantages of the technology. For, instance, at the very beginning of this year, Brocade went all out to sow the seeds of SDN, by announcing that it will offer its SDN controller, Vyatta, free for a year.
“There are customers who are on a ‘wait and watch’ mode. They want to dip their toes into SDN without having to invest much on proof-of-concepts in their own individual environments. The recent Brocade offer providing free SDN controller based on OpenDayLight for a year is targeted towards these customers who comprise a big segment of the enterprise,” said Edgar Dias, regional director, India and SAARC.
The question is does this free offering affect other players like Juniper and Avaya. Well, probably not.
“Brocade is still very new. Allowing free use of its controller will definitely encourage its existing customers to adopt SDN. However, offering free SDN controller is not a big deal actually. Companies like Cisco and Juniper already have their own SDN offerings. However I think Brocade wants to move fast and aggressively in this market. But, Juniper, Cisco, Big Switch and VMware are well entrenched into SDN,” Singh added.
“Brocade offering free services does not affect Juniper. If you look at our Contrail, which is an open source and open stack distribution code, one can go to OpenContrail.org and download the entire SDN asset and use it for free,” said Sajan Paul, director systems engineering India & SAARC, Juniper Networks.
Well, if Brocade has it free offering, Juniper boasts about its Contrail, then Avaya is also confident about its fabric technology to leverage SDN.
“Our Fabric technology delivers over 90 percent of the SDN promise today, it is extended out of the data center to the edge. We’re the only vendor who can do this today,” said Priyadarshi Mohapatra, MD, Avaya India and SAARC.
Mohapatra also said that their competitors are offering solutions that cannot be adapted with the customer’s existing infrastructure. “Avaya has a very unique set of networking architecture, which allows our customers to transform themselves into a futuristic software defined networking system, without interrupting their existing infrastructure.” Mohapatra added.
“We expect SDN deployment scenarios in the near term to focus primarily on private data centers and pure-play cloud service providers,” Kindness added.
The Winning Formula
Every vendor has their own take on SDN and are trying to sell their offerings in their own unique way.
“Avaya’s Fabric Connect Stealth technology changes the landscape by offering a secure fabric technology that is not dependent on IP for path behaviors. As a result, it offers a secure networking environment where security and multi-tendency are must-haves. In addition, it reduces our customers’ CAPEX & OPEX level, time to add new services , quick troubleshooting, no scope for human errors and fast failover time,” Mohapatra added.
Here again, if Avaya boasts of its fabric technology, the Juniper has its own virtualization story to go with.
“Juniper looks at SDN more holistically than any other vendor, including looking at enterprise to service providers to private or public cloud. The story cuts across all these domains. If you look at the enterprise domain, then of course SDN goes hand-in-hand with SDN virtualization story, because in the server now, we see more than 80 percent of the workload being virtualized,” Paul said.
Dias sees SDN as strategic advantage for the IT department which can help organizations stay ahead pf competitors. “We are seeing service providers, cloud networking providers and large enterprises as the first to quickly embrace the New IP architecture as they see this as a way to enhance competitive advantage, drive down costs, leverage the incredible agility that SDN provides,” said Dias.
“We look at SDN holistically, supporting all the domains by delivering products, both hardware and software,” Paul added. He also said that Juniper shares a very intimate relation with VMware, and it happens to be one of their biggest value proposition.
Dias pointed out that, the strategy of Brocade in embracing open networking and the product ionization of OpenDayLight has drawn huge interest amongst vast section of customers across industries.
Paul said that they have global customers who use their open Contrail frame work and built their own APIs around that. “Open source is all about co-creation and customers also contribute back,” Paul added.
“Through the addition of the Vyatta OpenDayLight SDN controller last quarter, Brocade has a complete portfolio which is based on open standards with a focus on agility by deploying new services to customers in minutes rather than months. We refer to this architecture as the New IP wherein networking technology that will be adopted by progressive companies will be open, innovative, user centric and software-defined,” Dias added.
Challenges in Hand
Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that in India, SDN and other software defined technologies can only see the light of the day if it can penetrate the hype and deliver what it claims.
“Every new technology comes with some hype and only those which outgrow the hype, will be successful in the longer term. I feel that SDN has now outgrown the hype but it is still in a stage where it needs to prove itself. If vendors providing SDN solutions can achieve some viability, it surely will see enterprises adapting it,” Singh said.
Paul said that he partly agrees with the hype part, but is sure that CIOs will not be able to ignore SDN owing to adaptation cloud computing.
“Customers today are keenly looking at deploying these technologies and Brocade already has a couple of customers in India who have taken the lead in the deployment of SDN architectures in the new campus and data center architectures,” Dias said.
Kindness pointed out that the main benefit of SDN will come in the form of greater flexibility and user experience of network-reliant services, such as faster and better-quality connectivity and more secure connections.
A significant challenge that stands as a barrier to SDN adaptation is legacy network. “Today’s core network infrastructure is not yet ready for SDN. Many elements of the legacy network are still on proprietary hardware. The challenge is that if one overlays the legacy network with SDN-capable technologies, certain functions will get lost as the underlying legacy infrastructure will not support them,” Kindness said.
Dais said that he foresees tremendous excitement amongst customers and partners on the Brocade open networking architecture as it goes head-to-head against proprietary networking architectures, which have been predominantly positioned by other vendors through integrated stacks.
One needs to look at a centralized management and control of the net space. Initially every decision was taken at every node, now it is different, decisions are taken outside the node that is, outside switches and routers but at the controller level.
“Legacy is a challenge, not only with SDN but any new technology as you cannot backward integrate. The controller has to be robust now, as it needs to decide for all the switches and routers. But if you centralize all the decisions in one point, it means that you are creating a single point of failure or vulnerability in terms of security. The questions with SDN is, how to look at logically centralizing the infrastructure, but still keep certain areas distributed,” Singh concludes.