Which SDN Vision Will Win Out?

Comments: 0 Runtime: 4:04 Posted: August 14th, 2015

The question of which software defined network vision will win out is a bit of a challenge to answer today; there are a few competing visions associated with different vendors that have diverse scopes.  Cisco, while dominating most of the infrastructure space, has active competition from companies like Nuage and VMWare, which provide their own unique SDN solutions via an overlay. 

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There are 3 or 4, at minimum, competing visions of what SDN will look like. You've got a company like Cisco that has built a fabric that looks good, it's got momentum with customers. Is it going to win out the day? It's hard to say because it has multiple other solutions. Cisco has multiple other solutions that aren't SDN in its own portfolio that kind of compete with ACI.

Then you have the overlay vendors like VMWare and Nuage and some smaller startups in the space who are saying, just create a software layer over your legacy infrastructure and we provide the benefits of SDN. Then you have the people that promote OpenFlow and OpenDaylight controllers with lots of open source technology that's commercially supported by vendors like Brocade.

That's 3 1/2 to 4 different visions right there, and it's not clear who's going to win. Cisco, obviously, owns the infrastructure space, so you would think that they are going to win out the day, but VMWare has a very large install base, too, that crosses over with Cisco a lot and their overlay product has good momentum behind it. Then you have all the Cisco competitors and startups that are embracing a third and fourth model. They're all going to get customers. I don't know that there's going to be 1 winner.

From one perspective, some of the OpenFlow and OpenDaylight players, they're embracing these white box switching models, this disaggregated hardware and software for switching, which in itself is kind of tangential to SDN, but also deeply involved with SDN. You have significant players embracing that. Facebook has embraced that. Google has embraced that. They've embraced it for years. They're creating an ecosystem of partners and vendors that also support that, so that smaller companies in the web scale and cloud provider space can go in that direction, too. When they go into that direction, they move away from a Cisco model and they also move away from a VMWare model because when they move in that open direction, they move towards OpenStack. You have a sort of a critical mass building around that.

I read yesterday that an analyst at a competing firm mentioned that if Google was a networking vendor, it would be the number 2 vendor in the world just for the switches that they built for themselves. Most of those switches are part of an SDN environment that has nothing to do with Cisco, nothing to do with VMWare, and it's their homegrown stuff. They have an interest in probably eventually reducing costs by developing an ecosystem, just like Facebook's doing, that creates open networking technologies based on disaggregated hardware and software and open source SDN controllers.

Written by Shamus McGillicuddy
Sr. Analyst, Enterprise Management Associates

Shamus has more than nine years of experience in the IT industry, primarily as a journalist covering the network infrastructure market. At Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), he is the senior analyst for the network management practice.