Understanding the power-play in the SDN world

Cathy Huang/Frost & Sullivan
16 Oct 2013

Traditionally, networking is defined by how servers, routers and switches were cabled together. This meant that when an IT infrastructure has been cabled, it would be extremely costly for it to be undone and re-cabled again. On top of costs, the inflexible physical topology of the networks is also a limiting factor as the ability of the network to scale, be agile and handle varying workloads is compromised.

With the recent technological developments in software-defined networking (SDN), organizations are now able to look into this technology to enhance their current state of networks in terms of flexibility, scalability and agility. This disruption in the networking space is an unprecedented opportunity for many vendors to expand into the networking space and reach out to previously inaccessible clients; as such many IT giants extended their products offerings through acquisitions while those currently in the traditional networking space viewed it as a renewed opportunity to challenge Cisco's position in the market. Several start-ups have also been formed and have gained the trust of venture capitalists in competing in this market.

This article outlines the major players in four different camps within the SDN vendor landscape.

Angling for a space

Following the VMware's acquisition of Nicira Networks, the SDN start-up bought for $1.26 billion in mid-2012, SDN has rapidly grown into a widely discussed topic in the industry. Although it was said that VMware overpaid for the company, nonetheless it is in the leading position in the server virtualization space and is ambitious about moving into the networking market by selling network virtualization and beyond. More importantly, this acquisition and the big buzz created have caused many of the bigger players to react by announcing their own SDN strategy and solutions.

VMware had a head start in terms of creating market awareness about SDN, but the vendor only completed the development of its VMware NSX in August and expects it to be released in the fourth quarter.

IBM, after selling its networking business to Cisco in the ‘90s, has been scouring the market for new opportunities to re-enter into this business. It has since acquired Blade Network Technologies in 2010 and in late 2012 released IBM Programmable Network Controller, an SDN controller that has surprised many because it was released in a short span of time. Many speculate that despite the hefty price tag, IBM would be a formidable player in the SDN space because of its strong foothold in the IT industry and ability to leverage its vast software expertise.

IBM is most likely to be the top contender in creating the ecosystem around the controller and the applications on top of the SDN infrastructure.

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