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The future of SDN in 2018 moves toward increased automation

Future SDN trends could show variations of the technology becoming more prominent among enterprises, as organizations look increasingly toward programmability and automation.

The key word for the future of SDN this year is more -- more software-defined networking vendors, more options...

and more deployments.

The market for classic SDN -- defined by a standards-based separation of the control plane and the data plane and tied together by the OpenFlow protocol -- continues to hum along quietly in the background, growing slowly, but growing nonetheless. Nemertes Research found 13% of enterprises run some OpenFlow in their network infrastructures, and another 13% plan to do so by 2018. This OpenFlow deployment is typically only in part of the data center and, in many cases, is entirely virtualized, with the controller running on a virtual machine and the data plane consisting of virtual switches only.

Vendors like Big Switch Networks also pitch parallel deployment scenarios, in which a software-defined network lives alongside a conventional network. This option could power a management or monitoring network, or possibly provide a more flexible, affordable and enhanced security zone that connects two conventional network segments.

The future of SDN offers many options

In the forefront, different variations of SDN architecture -- especially software-defined WAN -- grow quickly and spread widely. Whether we're talking about Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure, VMware NSX or one of the other systems, they all share many of the goals found in classic SDN technology, including the following:

  • centralized control;
  • control policies focused more on network services and applications than on addresses and ports;
  • network virtualization to make it possible to deliver a logical network over existing physical network devices;
  • a network that is cheaper to operate, more automated and more resilient; and
  • network programmability, usually made possible through APIs on the controller.

Factors driving SDN trends

More than 30% of organizations have SDN technology in place, and Nemertes is tracking steady upward trends for the future of SDN. These trends are driven by a number of factors, including the following:

  • private cloud rollouts;
  • demand to heavily automate the network to reduce the amount of staff time required to deploy, operate and monitor the infrastructure;
  • product evolution in both networking and virtual infrastructures;
  • the spread of microsegmentation in pursuit of software-defined perimeters and zero-trust computing; and
  • growing interest in white box infrastructure and lower-cost options that add flexibility, programmability and simplicity.
The key to surviving the future of IT will be to make the network every bit as automated, flexible and dynamic as the rest of the virtualized infrastructure.

The SDN marketplace is growing rapidly, a side effect of the ability to build software-only options that run on generic hardware. In addition to big vendors like Cisco, Juniper and VMware, a solid cadre of stable, smaller vendors also exists. These include Big Switch, Cumulus Networks, Extreme Networks, Nuage Networks, Pica8 and Pluribus Networks, as well as startups like 128 Technology and Lumen Networks. Most offer packages for software-defined data center networks, while some also reach into campus networks and WANs.

Perhaps most indicative of how different the SDN world is from the older, hardware-dominated networking space is even Microsoft has put a toe in the SDN market by releasing the software it uses to provide networking in Azure environments.

The key to surviving the future of IT will be to make the network every bit as automated, flexible and dynamic as the rest of the virtualized infrastructure. Every company with a network should have its eyes on the future of SDN trends -- classic or not -- to address the constantly growing pressure to make their organizations more responsive to business needs, more secure and cheaper.

This was last published in March 2018

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