Data Center SDN

Data Center SDN

Data Center SDN

ACG’s Service Provider Cloud and Data Center SDN syndicated research analyzes use of SDN solutions in service provider data centers supporting multi-tenant cloud (public, hybrid, virtual private and private ITaaS), web-scale application, media and content delivery, and operators’ internal IT services.    

Product categories analyzed in the research are SDN controllers (abstracted network control plane functions), SDN service control applications (value-adding network operations and management applications for functions such as traffic analytics and SLA monitoring and management), and SDN-enabled network elements, including physical and virtual data center network nodes running in conjunction with the SDN control software.  SDN-enabled physical network nodes include leaf or top of rack nodes, spine or core/aggregation nodes, and WAN/DCI edge nodes linking a data center to external networks and sites.

The role of open source software as well as open vs. proprietary architectures in these platforms’ uptake and in the operators’ use cases is addressed.  Additionally, use cases we consider for SDN in the operators’ data center deployments include resource auto-provisioning, auto-scaling, user and application policy integration, traffic management, data center and wide area network integration, monitoring and analytics, and cloud/service management system integration. The following is the product segmentation:

1. SDN-Enabled Physical Switches and Routers. Physical Switches and Routers are hardware platforms designed to perform networking in service providers' data centers at different points in their network topologies.  They are indicated as 'P. Switches + Routers' in our tables, for brevity.  They include network elements of varying form factors and levels of functionality, ranging from single rack unit (1 RU) fixed configuration devices suitable for placement as 'top of rack' or 'leaf' switching nodes typically adjacent to servers and storage devices in the data center; to variably sized modular, chassis-based nodes performing aggregation/core and 'spine' switching functions to interconnect leafs with other network elements and domains; and, further, to variably sized, edge routing platforms that interconnect data center infrastructures with, typically, wide area networks of one type or another for connections to other data centers, to operators' own transport networks, or to the Internet.  We consider devices that can be programmed using SDN technologies of one form or another to achieve the dynamic, service-aware and streamlined operating model SDN is intended to enable for its users.

We further subdivide the types of platforms in this master category into the primary forms in which suppliers are delivering them in the context of enabling SDN in operators’ data centers.  These include:

  • Integrated System SDN-Enabled Elements (or nodes). Integrated system nodes are platforms made of purpose-built, proprietary hardware and software to insert into operators’ data center networks. They often have software interfaces or agents that allow for participation in SDN functionality on a variety of levels.  But the implementation of the functionality is tightly coupled and available from the supplier on as an integrated combination.  
  • White Box SDN-Enabled Elements.White Box nodes are platforms constructed of commonly available, often openly-specified hardware designs that are open for support of any supplier’s software which has implemented its integration functions using the platform APIs made available for that purpose. This is a form of disaggregation as being practiced increasingly widely in the networking industry, much as the design of ‘x86’ computer processing architectures facilitated the development of a competitive personal computing platforms market in the 1980s and ‘90s, and which is still a vibrant element of the overall ICT industry today. Industry initiatives such as the Open Computing Project (or OCP) are forums in which the development of white box specifications are actively pursued by service provider customers and vendors alike.  
  • Open Network Operating System SDN-Enabled Elements.Open NOS solutions are pure software offerings designed for deployment onto white box nodes in data center infrastructures.  Revenue for open NOS solutions is typically realized as licensing fees for the right to use the vendor’s software. Open NOS solutions are an additional example of the disaggregated architectural model represented by SDN and open white box offerings as described in the category above. Industry initiatives supporting the development of open NOS frameworks for vendors to employ include the Open Network Linux initiative connected to OCP and the OpenSwitch initiative originally started by HPE. Vendors often supply their offerings in partnership with other firms such as Dell and HPE in those companies’ open networking portfolios.

2. SDN Control Software for Physical Switches + Routers. SDN Control Software used to control physical switching and routing infrastructures is supplied in two product categories that we analyze. The first is SDN Controllers.  SDN Controllers are software suites that abstract network control plane functions from the physical network nodes they are controlling, to simplify deployment, and link them dynamically to service and application policies that deliver behaviors users are expecting and operators are working to provide. The second category is SDN Service Control Applications. These are software modules that provide enhanced functionality to the SDN-enabled infrastructures in selected areas that go beyond the basic functions of SDN Controllers. Examples include traffic analytics, network monitoring and visibility, and dynamic topology management to achieve network optimization and SLAs. SDN control software in each of these categories exists to support functionality in both integrated system and white box/open NOS deployments.

3. SDN-Enabled Virtual Switches and Routers. Virtual Switches and Routers are software modules that perform a variety of networking functions for applications and other software-based functions that run in virtual computing environments such as hypervisors and containers in service providers' data centers. They are typically installed in a one-to-many relationship of a single virtual networking node in a server to many virtual machines or containers running in that same server. They forward information to and between modules running within that server, as well as to modules running in other servers, data centers and endpoints throughout the collection of networks they can reach.  They typically support a virtualized forwarding domain among groups of each other, and are often referred to as an overlay virtual network (OVN). They support networking amongst each other and also, via gateways, to networks running more widely installed 'conventional' networking protocols such as BGP, OSPF, IS-IS, MPLS, LLDP and others. It is common for traffic between OVNs and other networking domains to be encapsulated for transfer over conventional transport networks. OVNs are universally SDN-enabled in one form or another by their suppliers, since the configuration, deployment and operation of the overlay nodes is inherently software-controlled.

4. SDN Control Software for Virtual Switches and Routers. SDN Control Software for Virtual Switches and Routers used in service providers' data centers is supplied in the same two product categories as it is for Physical Switches and Routers:  SDN Controllers and Service Control Applications.  The functionality of each is similar, except it applies to the overlay virtual network.  It is not always the case that an SDN Controller or Service Control Application supporting an overlay virtual network also provides the same functionality to an underlay physical network from the same software base.  Other suppliers of SDN Controllers and Service Control Applications for virtual switches + routers are primarily focused on the operation of the OVN.  SDN Controllers support configuration, deployment/activation and monitoring/control of the OVN.  Service Control Applications provide visibility, analytics, policy implementation/control, network optimization and service orchestration functions for their networks.

Service Deliverables

The syndicated service includes the following reports:

  • Worldwide and regional quarterly analyses in both Word and PowePoint formats of vendor market share plus the most significant industry announcements and developments. Quarterly market share analysis shows the share of market in individual product categories and in SP data center SDN overall that specific vendors have achieved.  We explore use cases and reasons for the vendors’ achievements.  We relate vendors’ achievements and approaches to dynamics in the market at large, including implications for data center design models and vendors’ plans related to them.
  • Worldwide and regional forecasts in Excel format of worldwide product uptake and revenues are provided twice annually, in the 1st and 3rd calendar quarters. Twice-yearly forecasts project the rate and amount of uptake we expect for SDN software as well as SDN-enabled network elements in SP data centers over a rolling 5-year forecast period. Bi-annual reports that track all the webscale companies, historical/current/five-year capex. Webscalers: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, IBM, Oracle, eBay, Baidu, Equinix, Netflix, Tencent Holding, Alibaba, Salesforce and other Webscalers. 
  • Quarterly information exchange with our analyst in advance of the delivery of reports and review/discussion time subsequent to their delivery.
  • Additional time for discussion and exploration of specific topics in detail can be arranged as an optional retainer or add-on to the syndication.

For a briefing, contact Ram M. Srikantat

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