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The path to SDN

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is the next big thing in enterprise networks. It is still in the early days of hype and confusion, but a boatload of products have already been announced. By virtualizing the corporate data network, SDN brings the same flexibility and management benefits as virtualization of server and storage technology, and it is not until all these elements dynamically operate together that the full benefits of each can be maximized.

As Gigaom analyst Lee Doyle of Doyle Research puts it “companies that highly value their network” are already taking a look at it and making the first steps toward implementation. These include firms in retailing, financial services, education and health care with high volume and high speed networks through which the lifeblood of the organization flows. In a recent Gigaom survey, 15% of the enterprises queried have deployed or have in pilot some aspects of SDN.

Doyle foresees incremental adoption both within the market and within organizations. Looking long-term, he expects the technology to become mainstream within the next five years and pervasive within the next 10. He says the 20-30% of enterprises for which their network is critical—and this is not only large firms, but can be mid-sized companies as well—will have started to install some elements of an SDN within the next year or two. Doyle believes even organizations for which their networks are less critical should start looking at the technology now: learning about and evaluating the technology and understanding what capabilities it will bring in what timeframe to their areas of priority.

Incremental installation within organizations means that companies will upgrade to SDN technology in those areas that it first perceives a need. In the data center, this may well be in support of provisioning virtual machines. With those converging their data and storage networks, it may be for the equipment managing at the middle of that converged environment.

Tomorrow, November 6th, networking market leader Cisco makes the long-awaited announcement of its Insieme platform, which Gigaom is been covering extensively. Insieme is Cisco’s in-house startup-developed answer to open source, OpenFlow-based competitors such as VMware-owned Nicira. From the vendor perspective, the race has been on for a couple of years. It is time now for all IT buyers with a significant network, not just early adopters, to evaluate and start to consider their eventual route to the technology.