IDC: Next Two Years To Be 'Significant Launch Point' For SDN In The Enterprise

Software-defined networking (SDN) is evolving quickly from an industry buzzword to an enterprise reality, according to a new report from analyst firm IDC.

The global SDN market -- including physical network infrastructure, controller and network virtualization software, SDN network security services and SDN-related professional services -- is set to grow from $960 million in 2014 to more than $8 billion by 2018, IDC said this week.

The firm's growth figure represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 89.4 percent. IDC said its growth projections apply to SDN adoption across both the enterprise and cloud service provider segments.

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Demand for SDN, which turns the high-end functions of networking gear like switches and routers into software, is being driven by organizations' need for more flexible networks, especially as they deploy new solutions for cloud, mobility, big data and the Internet of Things, IDC said.

While major cloud service providers have been the earliest adopters of SDN, the next two years will be a "significant launch point" for SDN technologies in the enterprise, said IDC Research Director for Datacenter Networks Brad Casemore.

"It's worth noting that the market will not behave unitarily," Casemore wrote in an email to CRN. "Some segments of the market are further ahead in their journey to cloud, and they're not only the early adopters of SDN but also the organizations that are restructuring their IT departments along the lines of DevOps models."

In terms of the SDN vendor landscape, Casemore said it's too early to tell who will emerge the "definitive winner."

"On the vendor front, from our forecast and from a recent SDN survey of enterprises and cloud-service providers, we see a lively and robust level of competition ensuing over the next several years," Casemore wrote.

In some cases, that competition is already heating up. VMware and Cisco, for example, are already battling for partner and customer mind share with their own respective, and very different, approaches to SDN. VMware's answer to SDN is its NSX software overlay platform, while Cisco's is its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), a mix of Cisco software and hardware.

Dominic Grillo, executive vice president of Atrion Communications, a Branchburg, N.J.-based solution provider focused on network infrastructure, said Atrion's enterprise customers have definitely expressed an interest in SDN, but adoption, at this point, is still low.

"I haven’t seen much of it yet, but we are starting to hear some inklings of customers asking about it and probably thinking, 'That's where I want to be three years from now,'" Grillo said. "It's not right on the forefront of everybody's mind yet, it doesn't seem."

That said, Grillo added, Atrion realizes SDN will eventually have an impact on how, and what, it sells.

"We know things will eventually change in the future, and we won't be able to sell as much physical infrastructure like we are right now," Grillo said. "There will definitely be a shift in the industry for partners like us."

Casemore said he expects the rise of SDN to create big opportunities for the IT channel down the line.

"As you can see from our forecast breakdown, there's a significant professional opportunity for the channel related to SDN," Casemore said. "Those who can establish strong credentials as trusted advisers to customers evaluating and deploying SDN will have an opportunity to grow their business in new directions, whereas those who stick to traditional 'box-oriented' approaches will not fare as well."