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Networking outlook: Controllers, Layer 4-7 will roil SDN 2013 market

In the 2013 SDN market, IDC analyst Brad Casemore said service providers will adopt slowly and vendors will battle in Layer 4-7 and controllers.

What's in store for software defined networking in 2013? IDC analyst Brad Casemore predicts adoption will grow among service providers and cloud providers; vendors will battle each other in Layer 4-7 network services and SDN controllers; and OpenFlow may evolve, but very slowly. In the longer term, IDC projects the SDN market will reach $3.7 billion by 2016. Here's more of what Casemore had to say about the SDN market in 2013.

SDN 2013: Market will address Layer 4-7 services

While the first wave of software defined networking (SDN) hype focused on the separation of the control and data forwarding plane in Layer 2 and Layer 3 devices, the industry will focus a great deal on Layer 4-7 network services in 2013. This will be true among both traditional vendors–, such as F5 Networks and Riverbed, as well as startups, he said. SDN startups Embrane and LineRate Systems have focused almost exclusively on Layer 4-7. Meanwhile, Midokura introduced an overlay technology that covers Layer 2-4.

"A lot of vendors we know in that space traditionally, and also some new ones, will talk about how Layer 4-7 services can be deployed and provisioned in an SDN architectural model. We've already heard some talk of that, but it will develop as the year goes on," Casemore said. "If you look at the standard SDN model, [Layer 4-7 services] are applications that can basically run on the [SDN] controller platform. But that's not the only way to do them. We'll hear about different approaches. Network services for SDN are going to be a big story in 2013."

Who will adopt SDN in 2013?

Adoption of SDN will play out as many expect -- telecommunications service providers, cloud providers and webscale companies like Facebook and Google will lead the way.

The services providers that have led the way so far with SDN adoption will proceed with broader rollouts of the technology within their data centers and between their data centers on the WAN, Casemore said. These providers will also roll out some services to customs based on SDN technology, he said.

"Vendors and some users in the telecom community have spoken a lot about service velocity -- how quickly you can deploy and provision services," Casemore said. "That agility and flexibility to get new services into production, to take advantage of pools of resources, to re-provision different services and to scale them up and down is a big benefit to the service provider."

Adoption in the enterprise will be slower, ″except maybe in the financial services vertical where Goldman Sachs is now on the ONF [Open Networking Foundation] board. But even so, it won't be at a breakneck pace," he said.

In 2013 enterprise SDN adoption will occur mostly with network overlays, Casemore said. With so much existing network equipment installed that doesn't support OpenFlow, early adopters will have to rely on overlay tunneling protocols and virtual switches that don't require a OpenFlow-friendly underlying infrastructure.

Controllers will be a vendor battleground in the 2013 SDN market

Many more vendors will offer their own SDN controllers in 2013, Casemore said. Already NEC, IBM, HP, VMware, Nicira, Big Switch Networks, Plexxi, Adara and others have controllers for sale.

"There will be other entrants. Some of those will develop controllers in-house, others will partner, and some will acquire. We have seen the Juniper acquisition of Contrail. So the acquisition spree we saw in the latter half of the [2012] starting with the VMware acquisition of Nicira will carry on into 2013."

Read more of our 2013 networking outlook stories

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Controller differentiation will come into focus as more vendors offer products. Casemore said this differentiation will happen around scalability, resiliency and performance.

Northbound application programming interfaces (APIs) are also important to the success of a controller. The ONF is watching this space closely. Some observers expect the ONF to consider standards for the northbound API, but Casemore said such talk is premature.

"My own feeling is that it can't happen yet, because the market hasn't spoken in any appreciable way. If the rush to standardization occurred, you could have something that nobody particularly wants to use."

OpenFlow evolution in 2013

OpenFlow will not be the only path toward SDN in the long term, Casemore said. Vendors like Nicira and Plexxi have already made that case. However, OpenFlow will continue to evolve, expanding the protocol's ability to solve many different use cases. That evolution won't happen this year, but you can expect to hear some talk about it.

"There are some ideas that have been put forward, by Nicira for instance, on how you could bring MPLS-like capabilities into SDN. And they have proposals on how OpenFlow could be changed to accommodate that. It's going to take a while for that idea to propagate and move through the ONF. I think the more ambitious the scope of the change, the slower it's going to go. It is an evolving protocol and you will see it becoming more robust and with more capabilities, but if iterations of OpenFlow come too quickly most vendors can't take advantage of them because of product development cycles."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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