Applications hold the key to SDN adoption in the enterprise

A key promise of SDN technologies is the potential for a vibrant market for “applications” that leverage SDN protocols to address physical network resources. It is SDN’s ability to decouple network logic and policies from the underlying network equipment that allow for a more programmable network. The way to create SDN applications is to give broad population of independent software vendors (ISVs) and other developers the training and tools to leverage open SDN APIs. It is these applications that will deliver the value of SDN to the IT community by allowing greater levels of flexibility, innovation, and control in the network.

The “traditional” network market has struggled to create a broad ecosystem of network-aware application software. ISVs have been challenged by a large number of proprietary network protocols. Several network vendors have promoted efforts to create an ISV community around their specific network environments – most notably Cisco and Juniper- with relatively limited success.

The introduction of OpenFlow brings an open source strategy (e.g. Linux) to the networking market. OpenFlow is offered by a large number of incumbent network vendors including Cisco, HP, Juniper, Brocade, IBM, Dell, and NEC and a variety of start-ups, including Big Switch. There are also a number of open source options for OpenFlow. OpenFlow technology has been widely seeded in leading universities. In order for OpenFlow to achieve broad market acceptance, it must enable a sizeable community of network ISVs.

There are a number of SDN offerings that are not OpenFlow centric that also hope to enable a broad network ISV community. Cisco has announced its Open Network Environment (ONE) with a common set of APIs across its broad product line. VMware with its Nicira acquisition is also creating an SDN application community. Other interesting SDN start-ups with the potential to enable SDN applications include ADARA, LineRate, and Midokura.

2013 will see further standardization of south-bound and north-bound SDN interfaces – this will allow leading-edge ISVs the ability to develop more SDN specific applications. The OpenFlow ecosystem including R&D centers, universities, open-source, and vendor community will see further SDN application development. And, Cisco’s release of open API’s common to all its switch/router platforms (ONE) will enable ISVs and its broad channel community to develop SDN applications.

Development of a broad ISV community to leverage SDN technologies to tie applications to the underlying physical network is critical to the long term success of SDN. Enterprise IT customers want to buy SDN “solutions” that bring specific business value and a wealth of SDN applications will be the catalyst to broad SDN adoption in the business community.

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