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Networking 2013: The Year of SDN

  • In 2013, software-defined networking evolved from slideware to real products hitting the market from both established vendors and a slew of startups. Although the SDN market is in early stages, research firms have eye-popping projections for its growth. Transparency Market Research expects the global SDN market to reach $3.52 billion by 2018, based on an annual growth rate of 61.5% from 2012 to 2018.

  • VMware made a big splash with the launch of its NSX network virtualization platform at VMworld in August. Executives promoted NSX as a way to transform networking from a manually intensive process to one that's automated and flexible. They also touted partnerships with 20 networking and security vendors as working on NSX integrations. Cisco was notably missing from the list. Not surprisingly, Cisco wasn't excited about a software-only approach to networking.

  • Soon after VMware's NSX launch, Juniper Networks announced the availability of its own network overlay platform, Contrail. What was particularly interesting was that Juniper also made the Contrail source code available as open source software.

  • After months of speculation about what it was up to with Insieme, Cisco finally launched its Application Centric Infrastructure SDN platform in November. With ACI, Cisco straddles physical and virtual networks; Cisco's controller works with both a physical underlay and a network overlay but currently requires the new Nexus 9000 switches. Designed to streamline network configuration and data center automation, ACI is not expected to ship until mid-2014.

  • All the talk of SDN and automating network management sparked a lot of debate about the future of networking professionals. Will traditional skills in building and managing networks be devalued with the rise of SDN? Will some networking jobs becomes obsolete? Or will SDN open new doors for network engineers? Time will tell, but there's no doubt the networking profession is facing rapid change.

  • The buzz around SDN drew attention to white-box switches, with several SDN startups such as Pica8 including generic hardware switches in their architectures. BigSwitch, one of the first SDN startups, even shifted its strategy mid-year, stepping down from the OpenDaylight Project and placing its bets on white-box switches. Meanwhile, the Open Compute Project pushed ahead with its effort to develop an open, OS-agnostic switch. Whether these new switches really pose a threat to Cisco's dominance with its switches built on custom ASICs remains to be seen.

  • Not just once, but twice this year, high-level Huawei executives made comments to reporters that were interpreted to mean the Chinese telecom equipment provider was exiting the U.S. market. Both times, company spokespersons "set the story straight" so to speak. According to an All Things Digital report, Huawei is pulling back on its efforts in the U.S. carrier market, but not the U.S. market altogether. Maybe Huawei should spend more time coaching its executives on media relations.

  • With certified 802.11ac products shipping this year, enterprises started planning for major WLAN overhauls. The new wireless standard promises much faster data rates than the old 11n standard but as Network Computing blogger Lee Badman noted, implementing 802.11ac -- especially the second wave of 802.11ac products -- will require a lot of wires and new hardware.

  • Cisco shook up the market when it expanded into storage by purchasing all-solid-state-array vendor Whiptail for $415 million. While the deal raised some questions about Cisco's partnership with EMC in VCE, Network Computing blogger Howard Marks wrote that the Whiptail acquisition allows Cisco to "enter the storage market at the leading edge without attacking its storage partners head-on."

  • Extreme Networks bulked up in a big way with its purchase of Enterasys for $180 million. Industry observers described the deal as a way for both companies to survive in an extremely competitive market. Enterasys' history dated back to Cabletron Systems, which it was spun out of in 2000.