Software-defined networking (SDN), one of the latest buzzwords in software related networking is definitely not another expensive addition to any data centre, nor is it really a disruptive new way of architecting computer networks functions, it continues to gain ground within the broader enterprise and cloud service provider markets for data centre networking.

The worldwide SDN market for the enterprise and cloud service providers is predicted to grow from $960 million in 2014 to over $8 billion by 2018, representing a robust Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 89.4%, according to a new forecast from analyst firm IDC.

SDN in a nut-shell allows different network elements to be managed by software through the separation of the control and forwarding planes of the network.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) bring network functions together under the control of specialised software, and changes to functionality no longer require physical adjustments to the infrastructure.

Functions such as load balancing which once required dedicated devices can now be performed by software running on generic server hardware, and applications requiring different configurations can be housed on the same systems without compatibility problems.

SDN simplifies physical network infrastructure and centralises management of traffic and application delivery.  Administrators can quickly shift resources from one area of need to another as they deal with changing business requirements, reducing redundant and underutilised network elements.

While SDN is already proving its worth to a number of organisations running very large networks, it should not be viewed as something to be adopted for its own sake.  Rather, it is a necessary intermediate step that leads to a more foundational shift in IT: the software-defined data centre (SDDC).  As more individual hardware functions are transitioned to software, the natural progression is to eventually virtualise the entire data centre.

This forecast for the SDN ecosystem includes in-use physical network infrastructure, controller and network-virtualisation software, SDN network and security services and related applications, and SDN-related professional services.

“SDN is taking centre stage among innovative approaches to some of the networking challenges brought about by the rise of the 3rd Platform, particularly virtualisation and cloud computing”: IDC’s analyst adding, “With SDN’s growing attraction in the data centres for cloud deployments, IT business world is beginning to see the value in potentially extending SDN to the WAN and into the campus to meet the demand for more agile approaches to network architecture, provisioning, and operations”.

Many experts highlights the benefits of SDN as offering a more agile and intelligent service provider network that can be programmed to allocate bandwidth from a shared pool of resources where and when capacity is needed.

An expert at Cisco Middle East, Africa and Russia, commented thus:

“Globally, many large institutions, university systems, and state governments are adopting converged data centre architectures to optimise application availability while reducing costs – and we expect the MENA region to quickly adopt SDN.”