In recent weeks, there has been a lot of debate about the software-defined networking (SDN) offerings put forward by IT giants such as Dell, Juniper Networks, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco, which currently dominates the market. This debate is understandable, as market analysts at IDC recently predicted that the SDN market will likely grow from $960 million last year to more than $8 billion in 2018. In the same vein, Gartner has predicted that non-traditional switching will grow to 10 percent of global data center port shipments by the same time, up from just 4 percent two years ago. So in many ways, the debate was inevitable.
To put it briefly, an SDN is an approach to networking where network control and forwarding functions are decoupled, allowing the network control to become directly programmable and allowing the administrator to dynamically adjust the network’s traffic flow as needed. This is particularly useful when dealing with multi-tenancy in cloud computing and virtualization, as it allows administrators to have tighter control over the network’s rules, changing priority levels for different types of packets at a very granular level. Tighter control usually leads to more productivity and innovation, all characteristics businesses and organizations are seeking.
Cisco has been more focused on putting Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and layering proprietary SDN on their own hardware, claiming that it will lead to a more optimized virtual networking infrastructure through tighter integration. Meanwhile, Dell and HP are leaning much more heavily upon open source SDN and the flexibility and agility it allows.
While Dell began their excursion into SDN solutions more than a year ago using Cumulus Networks’ Linux-based operating system, HP is only recently entering the arena, also partnering with Cumulus Networks. HP’s recent announcement of the company’s plans to build open switches that run third-party operating systems drew criticism from Marius Haas, Dell’s chief commercial officer and president of Enterprise Solutions, who referred to HP’s announcement as “a poor man’s version of what Dell is doing.”
HP’s commodity switches will be manufactured by Accton Technology Group, an ODM based in Taiwan.
Haas may be right. The commodity switch market is already crowded, filled with competition from Dell, Juniper Networks, and Arista, and while Cisco is currently focused on ACI rather than commodity switches, it still has a presence that cannot be ignored, having taken more than 66 percent of the network switch market share last year.
HP seeks to differentiate itself by spreading internationally with a global supply chain, extending across more than 160 countries. They are also counting on an array of support and consulting services to set them apart, though of course, Dell is also known for their own cloud computing support and consulting.
So which company will take the lead as each tries to carve out its own chunk of the SDN market? Will commodity switches succeed in breaking Cisco’s control of the market? Only time will tell if only one company will come out on top in the end and how long the competition will last. For now, the debate will continue.