You would think it’s just a sleepy Monday before New Year’s Eve, but for large networking technology vendors worrying about their Software Defined Networking (SDN) strategy, it may not be that relaxing.
A few technology strategists might be burning the midnight oil for their forward technology vision, as AT&T has stepped up its pressure on technology vendors to detail their strategic plans for SDN, which is the much-hyped next wave of technology in service provider and data-center markets. According to Wall St. research firmMKM Partners, AT&T asked technology vendors for information about their Software Defined Networking (SDN) strategy in the form of a request for information (RFI).
AT&T has sent a questionnaire to a number of vendors and asked each to submit ideas and potential architectures by December 31, 2013, according to MKM.
The RFI asks the vendors how they plan to develop network functionality aligning with AT&T’s long-term SDN plan — called Domain 2.0 — in which its network will eventually take on a more flexible, open “white box” model pegged to various SDN technologies and managed by an SDN controller, which is a new category of software/hardware being developed.
For those of you not clued into “white boxes,” here’s what it means: Carriers are hoping that SDN, which is based on a handlful of open technologies including OpenFlow — will allow them to mix-and-match hardware or even build their own, basing their networks on a more open software platform that is less dependent on proprietary operating systems.
For a while now, anxiety has been building among leading service-provider vendors such as Cisco Systems (CSCO), F5 Networks (FFIV), and Juniper Networks (JNPR) — among many others — that this will diminish their competitive advantage as service-providers become less “locked in” to a specific vendors products.
MKM sees the RFI as a wake-up call for some vendors, and the firm projects certain strengths and weaknesses among the companies.
“According to our research, AT&T sent an RFI (request for information) to vendors last month that is likely to have significant long-term consequences for the Communication Equipment industry,” wrote MKM Partners Managing Director Michael Genovese in a research note issued this morning. “We conclude that, within our coverage universe, the long-term implications are most negative for Cisco and most positive for Ciena, Finisar, and F5 Networks. Outside of our direct coverage the implications appear to be most positive for VMware …”
Another big implication of this development is that a road-map for SDN deployment is starting to take shape. Data-center implementations for SDN are likely to start in 2015, with rollouts deeper in the carrier networks expected to start in 2016 and 2017.
“Changes are likely to occur first in the carrier’s Data Center domain, perhaps as early as 2015,” write Genovese.
The development is interesting because following AT&T’s Domain 2.0 unfurling, many industry players have had questions about what it exactly means. The RFI indicates that the global service provider is now getting relatively serious about implementing an architecture for SDN that will have long-term implications for all of the vendors who sell into service providers.
As stated, MKM expects some vendors to be handicapped by this and others to have have a natural strategic advantage. the most near-term edge may go to VMWare (VMW), which so far made the biggest SDN deal in the space so far — buying Nicira in 2012 for $1.26 billion.
“We believe VMware’s NSX platform has a strong chance of being selected as the Data Center virtualization platform, and foresee NSX-related Controllers and standardized high volume Ethernet switches being deployed starting in 2015.”
Though it’s notable that AT&T isn’t the only service provider and data-center operator on the planet, the RFI is likely to have industry tongues a wagging as it steps up pressure on the networking hardware and software vendors to figure out what they are going to do about SDN and
Cisco Systems recently announced its entire strategy in conjunction in a $860 million acquisition — this time of a spin-in, Insieme, in which Cisco already had a majority interest.
But the MKM note indicates that WMWare and Nicira may already be perceived as leaders in the data-center space, where Cisco and Insieme are trying to play catch-up to defend their turf. MKM sees the data-center marketing as being at the forefront on SDN, with optical and carrier router markets following a little later.