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This year will mark Software Defined Networking’s (SDN) move from a niche category to one that delivers real business value. SDN will reach new levels of deployment as organisations embrace the technology and concepts to create agility in their cloud and data centre environments.

One of Juniper’s studies earlier this year found an aggressive appetite to adopt SDN. However, there is still much that needs to be resolved, and there will be continued battles in the industry about how to best deliver SDN to meet the needs of businesses. On the surface, it’s great for simpler network management and cost-reduction, but what will companies really do with it?

I predict we’ll see the following SDN developments in 2015:

Adoption influx
VMware has publicly stated it has a US$100 million run rate business on its NSX portfolio. This is a great achievement, but this figure is still small compared to the US$10-billion plus networking market in the data centre environment.

In the upcoming year, we will see SDN enjoy widespread adoption. One reason is that much of the application deployment stack has already been automated. The network layer is an outlier in many organisations. SDN enables automation and orchestration to remove the repetitive nature of deploying applications in the data centre.

SDN can also make available the analytics trapped inside of the network to reduce troubleshooting times from days or weeks to minutes and seconds.

To date, numerous companies have experimented with full automation and orchestration in test environments. Many more have deployments of a significant size, including Nike, AT&T and Hess Corporation.

With the endorsement by these early adopters, I believe many other forward-looking businesses will follow suit. However, instead of a ‘rip and replace’ approach, organisations will look for ways to incorporate networking automation into their current infrastructure.

SDN hot spots
I expect we will see some very creative uses of SDN come to the fore in 2015:

  • Video gaming companies will rely on automated networks to spin up cloud instances and support tremendous volumes of user traffic driven by the rise of online gaming with next-generation consoles.
  • Big data-driven companies such as oil and gas as well as banks will find SDN a critical component of their data centre infrastructure. The energy and financial services industries, often comprised of remote branch offices, will also turn to automation for increased security, maximised efficiency and reduced cost burden.
  • Automation also holds the potential to revolutionise the healthcare industry, which is already in rapid transformation due to the accelerated deployment of mobile devices and new technologies to deliver services, store data and monitor patients.

Controller consolidation
Even as demand for SDN products grow, market consolidation is inevitable. We’ve seen this consolidation happen before, such as the early days of voice over IP when there were 30 or more call control companies.

There are a multitude of startups in the SDN space, but most will meet their demise. Large incumbents have rolled out their own SDN products, and have the considerable advantage of deep customer ties over the upstarts.

I was given this piece of advice long ago, and it still holds true today: Just because a problem is hard to solve and you solve it well, doesn’t mean anyone is interested in paying you for it.

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At the same time, the significant acquisitions to be made in this space have already happened. Any future acquisitions will be for talent, not continuation of product.

As SDN deployments rise, cementing the relationship between overlay and underlay networking will drive another very important area of focus: security.

Providing context and uniformity of security services across physical and virtual layers will be critical. Furthermore, it will become enormously important to integrate these components into orchestration and policy engines to ensure applications and workloads are consistently protected.

Bright future
SDN is the future of networking. In fact, at some point, we won’t even talk about SDN. It will just be networking.

We will see an increasing number of companies and organisations across a range of industries turn to the technology in 2015 to give them a business edge. We will also see increased investment in automation, orchestration, and network analytics.

In Asia too, we are going to start see SDN applied in more areas as the market and technology mature and more companies realise its value.

2015 won’t be the end of the SDN hype, but it will be the start of a maturing market.