Software defined networking (SDN) is the latest enterprise technology that promises to simplify network management by centralizing and simplifying network control. SDN makes enterprise networks more adaptable, more programmable, and more agile using policy-driven automation. This versatility to automate traffic flow is essential to deal with the new demands of virtualization and cloud computing.
Of course, with new technology come new software defined networking companies, including startups and familiar enterprise players. Considering that the SDN market is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2016 according to IDC and could grow $35 billion annually, it’s no wonder that software defined networking companies are jockeying for market position.
What is a Software-Defined Network?
A recent ad hoc poll showed that only 10 percent of IT practitioners understand SDN so let’s start by defining it. SDN allows the network administrator to shape network traffic to adapt to the rapidly changing needs of operations without having to reconfigure each switch and router in the network.
Basically, SDN separates the network into two planes: a control plane and a data plane. Abstracting the network architecture makes it easier to optimize each plane. The controller acts as the brains, providing a centralized, abstract view of the overall network making it easier to manage switches and routers to handle data traffic. The data plane forwards the actual data. SDN also includes application programming interfaces (APIs) for all network services and applications so IT managers can automate network services to optimize performance.
To help VARs sift through the noise that always comes with a burgeoning market, we decided to list some of the key software defined networking companies worth watching, including enterprise leaders and carriers, and some interesting startups.
Big Players Buy Into SDN
The enterprise networking leaders recognize that SDN will affect their business, so most of them are acquiring startup software defined networking companies to expand their enterprise offerings:
Alcatel-Lucent/Nuage – Alcatel-Lucent acquired Nuage’s SDN platform and the result is Nuage Networks Virtualized Services Platform (VSP), which defines network service requirement, detects and updates virtual machines, and automates network services based on established policies.
Brocade/Vyatta – Brocade acquired Vyatta in 2012 and the result is the Vyatta 5400 virtual router for physical, virtual, and cloud networking.
Cisco/Insieme – Cisco bought Insieme late in 2013 for $863 million as a “spin-in” to protect Cisco’s position in the network hardware market. Cisco still provides the hardware but now they have SDN capability for scalable network switching.
Juniper/Contrail – Juniper Networks acquired startup Contrail and now offers it as an SDN network overlay platform for cloud and service providers. And Juniper also offers OpenContrail, an open source version of the Contrail controller software available through an Apache 2.0 license.
VMware/Nicira – VMMware acquired Nicira in 2012 to take advantage of its SDN technology to virtualize heterogeneous networks, including cloud computing, and integrate Nicira into its own cloud virtualization strategy.
SDN Startups to Watch
And there also are some interesting SDN innovators that are helping define this new market:
Big Switch Networks – This Palo Alto startup is advocating adopting software based on the OpenFlow protocol to abstract everything at the network control plane, making it possible to use any type of data plane device. The company first shipped its OpenFlow controller, a unified network monitoring application, and an SDN virtualization switch in 2012.
Embrane – The company’s SDN product, helios, is a distributed, multi-service software platform that provides SDN services for firewalls, load balancers, and VPN termination. What makes their approach interesting is they use SDN for virtualized environments while retaining network intelligence at the network core, where it resides in most networks.
Jeda Networks – Jeda offers SDN Fabric Network Controller (FNC) software specifically designed to deal with virtualized data storage. Rather than using switches with specialized firmware for storage networks, FNC enables mixed-vendor SAN environments using 10GB Ethernet switches.
Plexxi – Plexxi is combining hardware, Plexxi Switch, and software, Plexxi Control, to give data centers more management flexibility. The concept is to use a top-down management approach by abstracting the programmable layer on top of the network hardware.
And Then There’s...
The OpenDaylight Project – Although not a company, the OpenDaylight Project was founded by Cisco and IBM and is hosted by the Linux Foundation to create standards around SDN open source code. NEC, Citrix, Juniper, Radware, and other vendors are contributing to the project, but as with all standardization efforts, it will take some time to see what impact it will have on the data center.
This is far from a comprehensive list of software defined networking companies, but it should provide a snapshot of the kind of technology that is emerging to power software-defined networking. The players keep changing, so what software defined networking companies would you choose for your next SDN project?