Market Insight

RESEARCH NOTE - Getting SDN Live in the Data Center Is Taking Longer Than Expected, Survey Reveals

January 24, 2017

Clifford Grossner Clifford Grossner Executive Director & Technology Fellow
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Following is information and insight from IHS Markit about our 2016 Data Center SDN Strategies Global Service Provider Survey.


  • In the data center, lab trials for software-defined networking (SDN) are still dominant over production trials and live deployments
  • Service provider bare metal switching deployments have stalled, but more bare metal switches are in-use for SDN 
  • Cisco and Juniper were named as the top data center SDN vendors by respondent service providers

Our Analysis

IHS Markit’s data center SDN survey provides insight into how cloud and telecom service provider data centers are evolving for SDN.

Data center SDN deployments going slowly

Two-thirds of the service providers participating in our 2016 survey are still conducting lab trials of data center SDN, down only slightly from three-quarters in 2015.

The number of respondents in production trials and live deployment in 2016 continued to be lower than expected by those taking part in the prior year’s study; see the chart below.

Getting to live production is taking more time than expected. This means that the most innovation-driven part of the market critical for new revenue—SDN controllers, data center orchestration and SDN applications—is still wide open. Although the leaders in the SDN service provider data center market are becoming clearer, especially for physical network equipment, we do not expect the market to solidify until live deployments ramp.

Bare metal switching stalls

Bare metal switch ports comprise, on average, 33 percent of respondents’ data center Ethernet switch ports (the same as our 2015 study). And, on average, 24 percent of bare metal switch ports are in-use for SDN, up from 12 percent in the 2015 survey.

The majority of bare metal switches are still being deployed at large cloud service providers (CSPs) because skilled programmers who are adept at dealing with bare metal switching are required to ensure success.

By 2018, bare metal Ethernet switch ports in the data center are expected to reach 41 percent among operators surveyed.

Service providers name Cisco and Juniper top SDN vendors

The leaders in the service provider data center SDN market are solidifying for physical network equipment.

In an open-ended question, we asked respondents whom they consider to be the top three data center SDN hardware/software product vendors. Cisco, the big player in enterprise networking, was identified as a top-three vendor by 72 percent of respondents, while Juniper was named by 39 percent of respondents.

Cisco continues to get traction with its SDN solutions, including with educational institutions providing online learning for students, CSPs deploying self-service portals and enterprises adopting hybrid cloud architectures. Juniper, meanwhile, is gaining footing with its contrail cloud and contrail networking solutions.

Data Center SDN Synopsis

For its 30-page 2016 data center SDN survey, IHS Markit interviewed service providers that have deployed or plan to deploy or evaluate SDN by the end of 2018 about their plans to evolve their data centers and adopt new technologies over the next 2 years. Respondents were asked about SDN deployment drivers, barriers and timing; expected capex and opex changes with SDN; use cases; security technologies; applications; top-rated vendors; and more.


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