The 10 Coolest Software-Defined Networking Technologies Of 2016 (So Far)

SDN Heating Up In 2016

Software-defined networking has begun to hit the mainstream market in 2016 as vendors report thousands of customers now using SDN solutions.

The SDN market is expected to reach $12.5 billion in the data center by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 54 percent over the next four years, according to an IDC report. The benefits of SDN are no longer being overlooked as it offers the ability to provide businesses with automated provisioning of workloads, improves security, reduces vendor lock-in and cuts networking expenses.

"The potential for long-term innovation that could emerge with an open SDN-based marketplace is clearly disruptive to what has traditionally been a hardware-centric-model," said Mark Fabbi, Gartner lead analyst and author of Gartner's 2016 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking.

CRN takes a look at 10 of the coolest SDN technologies in the market so far this year.

(For more on the "coolest" of 2016, check out "CRN's Tech Midyear In Review.")

Cisco ACI

With an annual run rate of $2.2 billion, Cisco Systems' Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is continuing to grow rapidly. ACI is based on the company's Nexus 9000 series of switches and includes Cisco's Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). The policy-based automation solution reduces application deployment times from weeks to minutes, according to Cisco.

Cisco has the largest market share by ports shipped and by SDN revenue in the data center, according to research firm IHS. Cisco said earlier this year that ACI has more than 1,400 customers.

To further accelerate ACI adoption rates, Cisco acquired cloud management startup CliQr for $260 million in March.

VMware NSX

VMware's NSX network virtualization platform leverages virtual switches running in each hypervisor to create an SDN overlay. NSX is hardware-agnostic and aimed at improving network security and network management.

Earlier this year, VMware said NSX has 1,200 customers and an annual run rate of more than $600 million. To further boost NSX, VMware acquired Arkin, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup that provides software to let organizations track traffic flows and security issues in virtualized and physical environments.

Avaya SDN Fx Architecture

For customers requiring extended automation using SDN, Avaya offers its SDN Fx -- an OpenDaylight-based controller and Fabric Orchestrator to integrate with OpenStack. Avaya said the architecture can currently support up to 168,000 devices.

Avaya's SDN Fx includes its Open Network Adapter (ONA) gateway based on open-source Open vSwitch technology that provides a simple and secure network connection for devices with an Ethernet port. ONA automatically provisions a secure network path that enables management of thousands of devices.

Juniper Contrail

Juniper Networks' overlay solution, Contrail, provides cloud networking and service orchestration powered by open standards technology. Included in Contrail is a cloud-based solution that combines automation capabilities with Juniper's OpenStack distribution to provide a turnkey orchestration platform for building and scaling secured networks. The networking vendor also offers an SDN controller and a Contrail Service Orchestration platform that delivers complete service life-cycle management in an open framework.

Contrail is available in a supported version and through an open-source model, which has helped position Juniper as an option for service providers and large enterprises looking to integrate with OpenStack environments, according to research firm Gartner.

Barefoot Tofino

Networking startup Barefoot Networks touts its programmable switch platform – the Barefoot Tofino – as the world's fastest and most programmable series of switches, while also providing a software suite to sit on top.

The software suite, dubbed Barefoot Capilano, allows customers and partners to write programs in open-source and then run them on Tofino.

Extreme SDN Platform

Extreme Networks' SDN platform is based on a hardened OpenDaylight controller that includes network management, access control, application analytics and wireless controller technology using open APIs.

The platform extends orchestration and automation capabilities while enabling provisioning to the entire network under a single pane of glass. Extreme's SDN can integrate with existing multivendor hardware and software network environments. The vendor also provides an OpenDaylight-based API software development kit to help customers keep pace with new security, wireless and converged SDN infrastructure.

Nuage Virtualized Services Platform

Nuage Networks, a subsidiary of Nokia, provides a virtualized services platform SDN solution for clouds of all sizes and makes the network readily consumable as compute resources, according to Nuage. The vendor provides a Border Gateway Protocol-based SDN network virtualization overlay along with an SD-WAN solution.

Nuage's platform, which is included in Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Helion OpenStack 2.0, is based on an overlay model that uses any IP network to provide connectivity between sites, where organizations can mix and match available networks from multiple providers.

Brocade's SDN Controller

Brocade Communications has an open-source SDN controller distributed along with its VCS Fabric. The Brocade SDN Controller is built directly from OpenDaylight code, without any proprietary extensions or platform dependencies.

Brocade says the controller ensures the ability to quickly develop and monetize applications as organizations transition to SDN. Customers can optimize their infrastructure to match the needs of their workloads and develop network applications that can be run on any OpenDaylight-based controller.

NEC ProgrammableFlow

NEC's ProgrammableFlow Networking Suite SDN solution automates and simplifies network administration and provides a networkwide programmable interface for unifying the deployment and management of network services with the rest of the IT infrastructure. The company has more than 200 production SDN deployments in the enterprise and service provider markets, according to Gartner.

This year, the company unveiled the next-generation ProgrammableFlow V6.3 that includes its SDN ProgrammableFlow Controller, a new OpenFlow-based software-defined data center interconnection solution -- Univerge PF6800 Network Coordinator – as well as OpenFlow-based hardware switches.

Big Switch Networks Big Cloud Fabric

SDN specialist Big Switch Networks provides a data center fabric built using white-box network switches and SDN controller technology. The vendor designed its Big Cloud Fabric from the ground up, touting it as the industry's first open networking SDN data center fabric that brings hyperscale design principles to cloud environments.

Big Cloud Fabric is available in either a physical or virtualized fabric managed by its Big Cloud Fabric SDN controller. The fabric supports physical and virtual workloads and choice of orchestration software.

Bonus: Tighter Relationship Ahead For SDN Leaders Cisco And VMware?

Although Cisco and VMware have been going head to head in the SDN market for years, partners say enterprises are deploying Cisco and VMware together.

In an exclusive interview with CRN in May, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said, "As it relates to VMware, I think our teams are talking about where there might be points that balance the competitive nature of the partnership, but also meet perhaps some of the emerging customer tasks."