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Summary:

Software-defined networking vendors such as Embrane and Nicira have found customers in the managed-hosting realm, and with more startups bringing products to market, enterprises could follow suit later this year.

Dante Malagrino Embrane Jonathan Heiliger North Bridge Venture Partners Martin Casado Niciria Structure 2012
photo: Pinar Ozger

Software-defined networking (SDN) use cases are slowly emerging, giving IT people ideas about how improved agility and lower capital expenditures could play out in different settings. Who’s releasing the use cases? Managed hosting service providers, among others.

Earlier this week I wrote about how NTT Communications has been rolling out SDN at multiple data centers around the world, to automate network configurations and provide other benefits. I also learned about how Peer 1 Hosting has signed up for SDN vendor Embrane’s software to round out the Peer 1 Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud offering, and I found out that SunGard has started using those same products to lower response times for its Recover2Cloud disaster-recovery enterprise cloud. The increased agility from SDN and other innovations lets SunGard promise response times that are 30 to 40 percent shorter, and the company expects to offer better service-level agreements to its own customers as a result.

Meanwhile, SDN company Nicira, which VMware acquired last year, has identified Rackspace, AT&T and DreamHost as customers. All three of those companies provide hosting services alongside other offerings.

In 1999 or thereabouts, service providers were quick to jump onto the multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) bandwagon as a way to help information travel faster on a network, said Ram Shanmugam, SunGard’s senior director of product management. Now many of those same companies are standing up as early adopters of software-defined networking.

And as that happens, it’s only natural for enterprises to witness the benefits of SDN and decide to give it a try, Shanmugam said. And thanks to SunGard’s market position, the shift could happen soon: Over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies use SunGard for disaster recovery, Shanmugam said. Going forward, more SunGard clients could get exposed to the perks of SDN, as the company has been discussing the inclusion of SDN as well as software-defined storage for SunGard’s enterprise cloud.

More SDN products hitting the market will also speed up adoption of the technology, which virtualizes networks and enables users to automatically provision firewalls and load balancers in a few minutes — something that took an engineer hours or days to do with a hardware appliance. The vendors are ready for the demand increase, or getting closer to that point. Networking hardware vendor Juniper Networks, soon after acquiring startup Contrail Systems, announced plans to release products later this year and next year that will allow for consolidation of hardware and connect network services on multiple devices. Cisco said in November 2012 it would buy Cariden, a company that’s come up with SDN strategy. And just last week F5 Networks, another hardware vendor, acquired LineRate Systems, which is looking to help companies take on more web traffic with more easily scalable networks, as my colleague Derrick Harris wrote.

So far, the promise of better agility has been one of the best motivators for companies to try out Embrane’s SDN products, and cost savings have taken a back seat, said Dante Malagrinò, Embrane’s CEO. This is somewhat a contrast to the adoption of server virtualization, where costs savings drove adoption among enterprise customers and the benefits of agility were only perceived later.

  1. [full disclosure: I spent 12 years at Juniper and now work at a startup in the SDN space]

    A couple of thoughts here…

    – There is a lot of talk about acquisitions. We should be somewhat clear about where these acquisitions are likely to benefit. The Cariden and Contrail acquisitions here are most likely to be used with SP solutions. So I like the fact that you are bringing some of this to light since so much of the coverage conflates enterprise (or datacenter) offerings with SP (more WAN facing) solutions.
    – And I /love/ that you are talking more than cost savings. The focus has been disproportionately on HW cost and automation costs. A new CIO comes in. In year 1, he analyzes and then re-orgs. Year 2 reaps the cost savings of the re-org. In year 3, he has to provide value. Any CIO who is banking on cost savings as a means of driving value for the company should keep a resume writing service on retainer.

    Great article. You hit two hot-button items for me.

    Mike Bushong (@mbushong)
    Plexxi

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