Software defined networking is about to hit the big time: Could SDN apps be the key?

Software defined networking is about to hit the big time: Could SDN apps be the key?

Summary: The market for software-defined-networking or SDN is set to boom and HP is aiming to be among the big players.


For a market that is only just emerging, Hewlett-Packard sees a great future in software-defined-networking (SDN) — a $3 billion in three years future.

SDN is a new approach to networking where the control of the network is de-coupled from the physical hardware and is instead handled by a software application, called a controller. The purpose is to remove the physical limitations of networks.

When a packet arrives at a switch in a conventional network, rules built into the switch's proprietary firmware tell the switch where to forward the packet to. The switch sends every packet going to the same destination along the same path and treats all of the packets in the same way.

In the enterprise, smart switches designed with application-specific integrated circuits are sophisticated enough to recognize different types of packets and treat them differently, but such switches can be expensive.

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The aim of SDN is to allow network engineers and administrators to respond quickly to changing business requirements. The network administrator can shape the traffic from the central controller without having to touch the physical switches using the software to prioritise, de-priorities or block traffic either globally or in varying degrees down to the individual packet level.

This is especially relevant in this era of cloud computing because it allows administrators to manage network traffic in a more flexible and, hopefully, more efficient manner.

HP is one company that believes that the move into SDNs represents a sea-change in network technology. "When you use an application you use a certain bandwidth and you have to allocate that beforehand," said HP's marketing VP for networks, Nick Watson. "Now, that bandwidth can be totally dynamic which we believe is absolutely revolutionary."

And according to the HP's VP of networking, Mike Banic, the SDN market is about to boom, hitting $3bn by 2016.

To kick-start things, HP launched 10 new routers that will support the OpenFlow SDN standard developed by Stanford University and the University of California at Berkley. The new routers will offer up to six times the performance of current routers and at a 27 percent lower cost, Banic said.

An SDN App Store and an SDN Developer kit are the two main new products which the company hopes will get the market moving.

HP also sees major growth in SDN apps — hitting $670m within three years. Those apps will range from the small "two guys in a garage" type app to large scale, enterprise class apps, Banic said, building on the capabilities of SDN.

But while HP will be hoping to be a leader in this market, it will certainly not be alone. Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Juiper and Contrail are amongst the competition already coming out with SDN products and services.

As one of the biggest network suppliers with "25 million ports out there already", according to Banic, HP has some advantage that it aims to capitalise on. Sheer numbers may help to back Banic's claim that HP has already put considerable investment into standards based, SDN technology. "We are announcing that every part of our network portfolio will be programmable through a standard method, " Banic said.

"There will be four categories of application: Developing Apps, Simulating Apps, Applying Apps, and the collaborating through the App Store," he said. "This is not a market-place for HP but a marketplace for HP partners. It is also a place for collaborators, in other words our customers."

While it already has applications of its own that support SDN technology, HP is hoping to persuade third parties of all shapes and sizes to come in with applications that will work through its SDN App store.

The HP SDN Developer Kit will give developers "the tools to create, test and validate SDN applications, leveraging HP’s SDN infrastructure and full complement of support services", HP said.  The HP SDN App Store lets customers browse, search, purchase and directly download SDN applications onto a Virtual Application Networks SDN controller. The aim is to give developers and others the ability to create  new business models for how network services are purchased and implemented, HP said.

HP announced a stack of partners who have already developed an SDN kit or apps including most of the big software names such as Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, and SAP, along with the network companies such as Mitel and ShoreTel — some 20 names in all so far.

Included in the support HP will be offering potential developers and others will be 24x7 technical phone support and "priority knowledge forum response for best practices and troubleshooting for SDN developers", HP said. Also there will be help for customers to "achieve desired outcomes with applications such as Sentinel and unified communications and collaboration", HP said in a statement.

The SDN Developer Kit will be available in November along with SDN Developer Support. The SDN Apps Services and Support, and Services and Support for the HP OpenFlow products will be available in the first half of 2014. The SDN Learning Journey curriculum is available now, the Virtual Application Network and SDN Controller will have pricing from $495, the company said. HP's MSR routers should be available now along with the Virtual Services Routers (VSR) with pricing from $500.

Further reading

Topics: Software Development, Emerging Tech, Enterprise Software, Networking


Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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  • Love the intent, question the app store

    I love what HP is doing in a lot of ways. They have very aggressively pursued SDN, which shows that they are willing to place bets on emerging technologies. For larger incumbents, this can be difficult, and HP certainly is showing it is not married to the status quo.

    And I also like that they are talking about the application and how applications can work with the network to provide a better experience. This shows real understanding of what the long-term endgame is. And if you haven't seen their Lync work, you should check it out as it makes very concrete what has been largely theory to date.

    I don't know that I buy the app store model, but that might be just a detail. App stores typically require large install bases to sell into. In this case, the install base is not the number of OpenFlow-enabled ports but rather the number of installed controllers.

    The controller install base will be small largely because the whole idea is to have fewer touch points. You don't want 1 controller for every 1 device, so you will see a natural drop. And that controller market might very well be fractured, as projects like OpenDaylight and Big Switch take off, along with commercial offerings from a number of players.

    The point is that I think you end up with too small a user base to be lucrative for the application developers. And if there is no money, the developers might not come in droves.

    That said, I do like that HP is being assertive and moving first.

    -Mike Bushong (@mbushong)
    Mike Bushong