Jason Landry
Senior Solutions Marketing Manager, Ixia

Now Is The Time To Get Bullish on SDN and Get SDN-Ready

July 26, 2016 by Jason Landry


SDN Timeline

We have all heard predictions about software-defined networking (SDN) for years. Forecasting can be extremely subjective especially early in a new technology’s adoption lifecycle. Many have been early in their predictions of SDN adoption rates and market size. I have been waiting for signs of SDN’s general acceptance for years. After reading a report from eWEEK referencing the latest SDN adoption survey research, I now have my final piece of evidence to confidently say that 2016 will mark the beginning of a notable mainstream migration to SDN.

Half of organizations will have deployed SDN before 2018

Analyzing surveys conducted in 2013, 2014, and 2015, SDN deployments will likely hold steady at about 11% in 2016. However, the most interesting data is not the 11% that will deploy this year, but that SDN deployments of 10-11% per year will continue through 2017. At this pace, about half of all organizations will have deployed SDN by the end of 2017. One thing is clear: SDN is going mainstream sometime over the next couple of years.

SDN Adoption Lifecycle CurveSDN Adoption Rates 2013, 2015, 2017


SDN pure-play companies are growing and getting investments despite broad market risks

Raising money in January 2016 proved extremely challenging. The NASDAQ Composite (^IXIC) was down 7.86% in January. There were no U.S. IPOs for the entire month of January 2016 – the first time that happened since December 2008.

Number of IPOs in last 12 months

However, three notable SDN players raised money in private markets in January 2016.

  • Big Switch, an open networking SDN startup, raised $48.5 million in January to scale the company and expand geographically. The company saw more than 300% growth in 2015 across its customer base.
  • Cumulus Networks, a Linux-based network operating system that runs on commodity switches, received $35 million from its existing base of investors as well as one new one.
  • Networking startup Plexxi says it received funding from GV, Google’s venture capital arm. It did not disclose the size of the investment but to date, the startup has raised around $83 million. Plexxi says it plans to use the cash injection to scale products and operations.

SDN is clearly in a secular bull market and it is poised to stay that way for many more years.

Early Adopters see drastically different benefits and challenges compared to Early Majority

While SDN might be garnering the attention of investors, service providers and enterprises want the business case – something tangible that delivers real value – to compel them to invest in SDN technology in their network. If you are in this camp, ask yourself two questions:

  • What do I care about when it comes to SDN?
  • What will move me and my company towards SDN adoption?

Companies have been asked variations of these questions for years. Their answers correlate highly to where they sit on the SDN Adoption Lifecycle curve. Looking back in 2014, when SDN was in the Early Adopter phase, survey respondents saw the perceived benefits equal to SDN’s promise. This is expected because Early Adopters are traditionally the opinion leaders preaching the heavenly virtues of a new technology while ignoring many of the practical aspects. The top three benefits and challenges for Early Adopters in 2014 were:

Benefits Challenges
• Improved uptime and availability (81%)
• Enhanced security (76%)
• Easier backups (71%)
• Security and compliance issues (62%)
• Backup recovery that is too slow (53%)
• Inadequate Budgets (51%)

In 2016, we shift out of Early Adopter and into the Early Majority. We see the Early Majority as less theoretical and more pragmatic. The Early Majority cares about costs – all different types of costs. They have a lot of money invested in traditional switching and routing technology and are struggling to find ways to integrate SDN into their current environment and do it with a flat IT budget. The top five benefits and challenges for the Early Majority in 2016 are:


Benefits Challenges
• Cost Savings (53%)
• Improved network performance (47%)
• Increased Productivity (46%)
• Improved Security (45%)
• Simplified network operations (43%)
• Cost savings (47%)
• Integration - Interoperability (42%)
• Security (37%)
• Choosing the right deployment model (35%)
• Migration of the SDN solution to a production environment (34%)

No, it is not a typo. The Early Majority cite costs savings as both the biggest benefit and the biggest challenge to deploying SDN.

Five Keys to get SDN-ready

Based on the data illustrated in the pie charts above, more than half of companies have not deployed SDN. The percentage who says they have no plans has dwindled dramatically and is projected to be only 8% by the end of 2017. These are the Laggards.

More interesting is the percentages who are considering SDN – 35% at the end of 2015 and 33% by the end of 2017. That is roughly one-third of you. When will you adopt SDN? In the Early Majority (2016-2017) or Late Majority (2017-)?

If you deploy with the Late Majority or with the Laggards, your company’s competitiveness may be at stake – especially if your company views IT as a strategic asset. How do you move faster from consideration to deployment in the next 12 months? As you analyze feasibility, costs, and timing to build your business case, you should also charter a DevOps team to start evaluating SDN technology today.

Here are the five keys to getting your DevOps team started and your network SDN-ready.

  • Key 1: Engage SDN vendors for hardware and software
    Some SDN vendors will be eager to provide trial hardware and software. Some equipment and applications you may have to purchase. Start engaging with an array of companies that provide SDN technology and start exploring options that may work in your environment. There are commercial and open-source options from Contrail to VMWare's NSX to Cisco ACI. There are overlay options (ie. VXLAN) and there are pure play options like OpenFlow.
  • Key 2: Test SDN controller performance and scale
    Test SDN controllers by emulating switches. It is essential to mimic a large number of switches in various topologies – something you would see in typical productions networks. You are validating the controller’s ability to discover network topology links and respond to network convergence. Some KPIs to test controllers are total session capacity and data plane performance.
  • Key 3: Test SDN switch performance
    Test SDN switches by emulating controllers. The emulated controller will validate a switch’s ability to store flows, forward traffic, and measure performance and capacity. You test control-plane scaling by generating millions of routes and reachable hosts. You test data-plane performance by generating multiple terabytes of realistic traffic.
  • Key 4: Validate high availability and fault tolerance of the switch fabric
    As you roll out SDN infrastructure, you are dependent on the underlying switch fabric to be highly reliable and work properly. This is necessary because SDN-enabled networks are highly programmable and react to various application service requirements.
  • Key 5: Test underlay hardware infrastructure throughput and latency
    Test the data plane and the control plane component just as you would any other networking device placed into your network. Ensure the hardware is capable of operating your SDN network. You also need to test north-south APIs.

Our IxNetwork, IxChariot, and IxANVL test tools offer a vast array of test scenarios and options for validating conformity, performance, and functionality of OpenFlow and VXLAN. Together, these Ixia tools provide hundreds of SDN test points to build your benchmarks.

Two years ago, you may have discussed SDN adoption in the context of ‘being too early.’ By the end of 2017, the conversation will shift to ‘being too late.’


The timeline illustration was created based on the following:

2012 - “SDN is a game changer.” NetworkWorld
2012 - “SDN will change the way that networks are architected, programmed and managed.” NetworkWorld
2012 – SDN a $2 Billion Market by 2016 IDC
2013 – SDN Market Forecast at $3.7 Billion by 2016 IDC
2014 – “87% of U.S. businesses intend to have SDN live in their data centers by 2016.” Infonetics Research
2015 – SDN Market to Reach $8 Billion in 2018 IDC
2015 – SDN Reality: $1.4 Billion in 2015 IHS
2016 – Worldwide Datacenter SDN Market Expected to Reach $12.5 Billion by 2020 IDC

The SDN Adoption Lifecycle curve and SDN Adoption Rates for 2013, 2015, and 2017 were adapted from 2 survey reports from QuinStreet Enterprise (2014 Data Center Outlook: Data Center Transformation – Where Is Your Enterprise? and SDN Growth Takes IT Infrastructure by Storm) that provide meaningful context from the past 4 years. An additional survey from Piper Jaffray was used to build an assumption for 2014 and to validate accuracy of the QuinStreet data.