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Network Computing

Special Coverage Series


Networking 2014: Putting SDN To The Test

Enterprises will begin testing software-defined networking deployments as their IT infrastructures become increasingly virtualized.

Increased data center virtualization will drive enterprises to develop software-defined networking pilot projects in 2014, and network security will remain a priority as organizations grapple with the BYOD trend, experts said.

Infonetics Research’s "2013 Data Center and SDN Strategies: North American Enterprise Survey" found that respondents expect more than half of the servers in their data centers will be virtualized by 2015, and this uptake of virtual servers as well as switches will pave the way for SDN.

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“Virtualization keeps marching ahead, practically unstoppable,” said Cliff Grossner, directing analyst for data center and cloud at Infonetics. “Between now and sometime in 2015, we’re going to hit a tipping point where more than 50% of the servers in the enterprise data center will become virtualized.”

Grossner said an increasingly virtualized data center will have a significant impact on networking, in part because for every virtualized server there will be a virtual switch. To compound this, he said, the number of virtualized machines per server is going up to 30 per physical machine by 2015, compared to 20 in 2013.

Virtualization is setting the groundwork for enterprises to start testing out SDN deployments, Grossner said. Infonetics found that respondents currently have 2% of their ports set aside for SDN, but that will grow to 8% by 2015. In a separate report, Infonetics forecast that the SDN market will hit $3.1 billion by 2017.

SDN is an architectural model that detaches the control plane from switching elements, resulting in far greater network efficiency and agility.

Notable use cases for SDN include providing security and unification of wired and wireless networks, and enabling BYOD, Grossner said. SDN provides the agility enterprises are looking for to move resources and workloads as needed, he added.

[A startup wants to help organizations overcome barriers to SDN with a kit that includes a white-box switch and a controller. Read the details in "Pica8 Unveils SDN Starter Kit."]

Gestalt IT’s Tom Hollingsworth said SDN will be “crazy” in the coming year but it’s also going to take time to prove itself. He is keeping an eye on companies such Brocade, HP and Dell that are working with OpenFlow, potentially negating the need for proprietary controllers.

The race in 2014 for smaller vendors, said Hollingsworth, will be to integrate everything into a single management hub, or “a single pane of glass,” a term he normally loathes. “That’s going to be the selling point.”

Hollingsworth said SDN has great potential to improve security posture, and security will always be a key focuses for enterprises, especially with so much data crossing networks. “We can slice and dice a network today to do exactly what needs to be done to keep it secure," he said.

Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, said there will be a greater focus on network security in 2014, driven in part by the growth of advanced persistent threats (APTs) and mobile devices in the workplace.

“There’s a need for greater network security because the threats are getting more sophisticated,” said Laliberte. “You’ve got this proliferation of mobile devices, potentially employed-owned, that are being leveraged to conduct work.”

Mobile devices such as tablets are becoming a bigger part of an employee’s work day, but not only are they connecting to corporate networks they're also connecting to public, unprotected Wi-Fi networks, risking exposure to security threats that are brought into the corporate network, Laliberte said. “That mobile device and access to Wi-Fi is becoming virtually institutionalized and taken for granted.”

Like Hollingsworth, Laliberte sees SDN playing a role in improving security as SDN vendors acquire security capabilities or come out with products and services with their ecosystem partners to address security. “Not every network vendor is a security vendor so you’ll see those partnerships blossoming," he said.



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