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Software-Defined Networking Market to Soar to $2B--But Not Yet

Software-defined networking (SDN) is poised for rapid growth and has the potential to solve specific business problems for enterprise networks--but it's still early days for the technology, analysts caution.

IDC predicts software-defined networking will grow from a $200 million market in 2013 to $2 billion by 2016. The primary driver for the growth is highly virtualized network environments and customers who need programmable networks, says Lee Doyle, group VP, networking and security at IDC. "Customers have always wanted to tune the network, but network management tools have been poor or non-existent."

Doyle says IDC's forecast for OpenFlow and the software-defined networking market as a whole includes switching and routing as well as services and software.

SDN separates network data traffic processing from the logic and rules controlling the flow, inspection and modification of that data. Traditionally, network management software has been vendor-specific for hardware such as switches and routers, but now vendors are responding to enterprises that require more control. Products are coming to market from companies in three categories: traditional network vendors, such as Cisco; large IT vendors, such as IBM, Dell and HP; and startups, such as Big Switch and Arista.

One of the most notable recent product releases was the NEC ProgrammableFlow Controller PF6800, which won the Best of Interop Overall award this month from InformationWeek Reports. The PF6800 is noteworthy because it's the first enterprise-class, OpenFlow-compliant network controller, and the OpenFlow standard has become synonymous with SDN.

Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation, the organization shepherding the OpenFlow specification through to standards, says enterprises are eager to gain more control over networks as they cope with server virtualization, virtual machines and multiple wireless devices. Software-defined networking enables IT managers to solve specific issues that affect the network, he says.

Next: How Software-Defined Networking Benefits an Enterprise

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