While it's still early on in terms of customer adoption, software-defined networking (SDN) is starting to turn a corner, becoming less of a buzzword and more of a real opportunity, solution providers said Wednesday at the Best of Breed Conference hosted this week by CRN publisher The Channel Company.
"It's coming. It's not just buzz in my mind," said Mark Robinson, president of CentraComm, a Findlay, Ohio-based solution provider and Elite Juniper Networks partner. "At one point, I thought it would be the next Network Access Control [NAC] three or four years ago, that kind of just died on the vine. But I think there is a fundamental shift to virtualize the network layer. So we are trying to assess our partners, and take advantage, and really just go from there."
Robinson said customer adoption of SDN is still slow-moving, but that CentraComm is finally starting to see an uptick, particularly among its larger Fortune 1000 clients.
"We saw our first enterprise RFP [Request For Proposal] for SDN within the last 30 days. I felt like it was a big deal for us to see that," Robinson said. "And I think it's going to be increasing. It's no doubt a game-changer."
Robinson said the big opportunities for CentraComm, as they relate to SDN, will lie primarily in providing integration services, network refreshes and upgrades, and helping customers decouple their network control planes and move them to the cloud, a distinguishing feature of most SDN environments.
Juniper Networks -- one of the many networking players trying to stake its claim in the SDN space -- echoed Robinson's comments during an SDN-focused session Wednesday at the Tampa, Fla.-based Best of Breed event.
"More and more Juniper Elite partners say they offer some kind of implementation services [around SDN]," said Aruna Ravichandran, vice president, marketing and strategy, Juniper's Software Solutions Division.
Ravichandran cited recent Juniper partner survey results that found 80 percent of Juniper partners identify SDN as being "important or critical" to their customers within the next three years. The results also showed that the number of Juniper partners offering SDN integration services -- whether they be around OpenStack, Juniper's SDN Contrail controller or some other SDN technology -- is set to double within the next three years.
Juniper isn't alone in its bullishness on SDN growth. Industry research firm Markets and Markets recently projected the global SDN market -- including both SDN switching and controlling -- to be worth $2.10 billion in 2017, up from $198 million in 2012 and representing a CAGR of over 60 percent.
Steven Reese, chief technology officer at SIGMAnet, an Ontario, Calif.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold Partner, agreed with Robinson, noting that customer adoption of SDN is still relatively light. But he said in specific vertical markets -- namely, higher education and financial services -- SIGMAnet is starting to see a bit more movement.
"[SDN] is still not a customer-driven conversation," Reese said. "It's still very much a manufacturer-driven conversation, with the exception of higher education and financial [services]."
Reese said SDN is picking up speed in higher education because of universities' need for "isolated research and development environments" that can be stood up and turned down quickly. In financial services, SDN environments are being adopted largely with the goal of speeding up transactions, Reese said.
But while the nascent SDN market is just starting to pick up steam, Reese said SIGMAnet is still prepping for the shift.
"We are proactively preparing ourselves," he said. "We are investing in a strategy, but we are doing it in a thoughtful manner. And we don't feel like our backs are against the wall to be to market tomorrow."
PUBLISHED OCT. 16, 2013