Network Infrastructure

Infonetics Surveys the SDN in the Data Center Frontier

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 16, 2014

Infonetics (News - Alert) Research recently issued a new survey on software-defined networking for the data center. To learn more about the key takeaways, INTERNET TELEPHONY talked to Cliff Grossner, Ph.D. directing analyst, data center and cloud at the research firm.

For those not familiar with SDN, how would you define it?

Grossner: I would approach a definition for SDN in two parts: what benefit does it provide, and how does it provide this benefit. SDN has captured the attention of the market place because it has the potential to enable automation for the data center network, meeting new requirements for applications to be delivered on demand to smartphone and tablet users. Automation for the data center network is necessary to achieve the promise of data center agility and cost reductions. SDN drives a new high-level architecture for networks and applications. SDN enables integration of the network with orchestration platforms for automation of the entire data center across its three essential elements of compute, storage, and the network. SDN also enables coordination between applications and the network, something that does not occur in current networks.

Three-fourths of enterprises surveyed cite improving application performance as the top driver for investing in the data center. How can SDN help with that?

Grossner: The architecture and taxonomy of SDN includes a data forwarding plane (physical and virtual), a control plane, and network-aware applications. Inherent to SDNs are a method to abstract and separate the switch control plane from the data plane. This abstraction has the potential to drive new efficiencies, enable more scalable methods for defining virtual networks, and simplify support for multi-tenancy. SDNs include a method (APIs, PKIs, specialized protocols such as OpenFlow) that can be used by applications and external controllers to request network state information or services.

What are the other key drivers of SDN in the data center?

Grossner: Key drivers, in addition to application performance, that were named by respondents to our December 2013 Data Center and SDN Strategies: North American Enterprise Survey, where we interviewed 105 network decision makers, include improved management capability, and rapid application deployment. SDN has the potential to help with both of these.

You provided a long list of vendors that enterprises consider the top SDN vendors. Who do you see as the top three SDN vendors and why?

Grossner: In an open-ended question, we asked respondents whom they consider to be the top three SDN vendors, a measure called unaided brand awareness, which provides a good view of overall brand strength. Typically, the larger a vendor is (e.g., broad product portfolio) and the more visible their brand is (e.g., TV commercials, product placement), the better they fare in this question. It definitely is a benefit to be the incumbent when new technologies enter center stage, and the same appears true for SDNs. Cisco (News - Alert), the big player in enterprise networking, carries the expectation by 62 percent of respondents to be a leader in SDN. HP is in the No. 2 spot, with 27 percent of respondents indicating that HP is a top SDN vendor, and close behind HP is IBM (News - Alert) with 25 percent of respondents.

Infonics expects SDN to go mainstream. What barriers does SDN need to clear to reach that tipping point?

Grossner: The SDN hype continues to be strong, but we must not lose sight of certain realities. We are still in the early market for SDN software and hardware, and customers are still in search of compelling use cases that demonstrate a clear ROI. There is still confusion surrounding SDN, with many different approaches, and no clear winners. Questions that customers are asking: What is the obvious benefit of SDN in my network? Is it easy to deploy? Is there a measurable return on investment?

Edited by Stefania Viscusi