Software-Defined Networking Poised For Its Breakout Year, Solution Providers Say

Many solution providers believe 2015 is the year that software-defined networking will truly begin to reshape the networking landscape.

"I think 2015 is probably the start of where SDN is really going to start taking off," said Chad Williams, vice president of research and education at Matrix Integration, a Jasper, Ind.-based Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems partner. "All in all, it's going to change the networking landscape over the next couple of years."

In a report released in November, Infonetics said it expects the global carrier SDN and network functions virtualization markets to grow to more than $11 billion in 2018, up from less than $500 million in 2013.

[Related: Brocade Channel Chief: Market Shift To SDN 'Coming Fast']

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Williams has been involved with SDN for the past seven years, and Matrix Integration established an SDN-focused division several years ago.

"We have a large focus in the research space, so we do a lot of business with research universities, national research labs. … That side for sure is going be leading-edge SDN," said Williams. "A lot of the education space is cooperative, collaborative -- there are a lot of networks that interconnect. Many of these higher institutions across the country are already running SDN stuff in various ways."

John O'Shea, president of Vology, a Tampa, Fla.-based solution provider and Elite Juniper partner, said the IT world is finally understanding the opportunity SDN presents.

"Now people are understanding the benefits of SDN, and as we're able to simplify it for them, they're more willing to engage," said O'Shea. "A couple years ago when we were talking about SDN, we were still talking about it in the sense of future-looking and having discussions and educating ourselves about it. But we are now engaged with customers in deploying these solutions."

O'Shea said what is resonating with customers is the ability to control the capabilities of their network infrastructure in a software platform that looks and feels similar to the way they managed their server and storage infrastructure.

He looks at the SDN opportunity as an extension of Vology's virtualization practice that's intersecting with their networking practice.

"We're starting to answer that question a lot more, 'What is software-defined networking and what does it mean in our business?' " said O'Shea.

NEXT: CTO Of Focus Technology Solutions Sees SDN Trending in 2015

Bill Smeltzer, CTO of Focus Technology Solutions, a Seabrook, N.H.-based Cisco partner, said SDN will be big in 2015.

"I would say from a data center perspective, a lot of people are talking about SDN and making sure purchases have some type of SDN future," said Smeltzer. Smeltzer, however, said he is not yet seeing a great deal of actual deployment.

Matrix Integration's Williams said he's having SDN discussions with customers regarding what they need from an infrastructure standpoint.

"We're directing them down that path saying, 'Are you just trying to upgrade your platform for a specific need today or do you want to evolve your platform into something that is going to be prepared to support you for the next three to five years?" said Williams.

Most solution providers agreed that there will be plenty of room for a number of vendors in the SDN space.

"It's always been a crowded space; I think it's going to stay that way," said Mark Robinson, president of CentraComm, a Findlay, Ohio-based solution provider. "We'll see similar things we've seen in the past. Maybe the very small, very nimble players that were created just to capitalize on SDN, maybe they get purchased by a larger player or something similar to that."

Williams also sees a similar trend ahead for smaller companies.

"Over the next few years, you're going to see a select few SDN pioneers from the manufacturing side sort of lead the way -- that would be the HPs and Ciscos of the world," said Williams. "Going into 2016 and 2017, we're going to see a tremendous amount of SDN initiatives and projects going on."