For all the talk about software-defined networking (SDN) inside the data center, the biggest networking impact may very well occur outside the data center.
A new study from the market research from Rayno Report forecasts that demand for cloud WAN services is expected to be $7.5 billion by 2020, and some $360 million in venture capital has recently been poured into the category.
The rise of cloud computing has been driving much of that growth, putting a premium on both the reliability and flexibility of the underlying WAN. In fact, much of the interest in software-defined WANs is being driven by a desire to allow IT organizations to self-provision network resources.
At the core of all those efforts are application programming interfaces that carriers are putting in place to make it easier for developers of cloud applications to access WAN services. Instead of waiting weeks and months for IT staffs working at the carriers to provision network services, APIs allow those services to be dynamically provisioned and then invoked as needed.
The future of WAN services
Providers of WAN optimization appliances are now taking those APIs to the next natural level by aggregating WAN services in a way that allows them to define in software what path network traffic should move based on latency, cost, and reliability. The end result should be a lot less dependency on any given carrier, thereby giving end customers a lot more leverage over the pricing of WAN services.
The rise of software-defined WANs should also drive consolidation of physical network infrastructure with everything from branch-office routers to application delivery controllers (ADCs) becoming virtual appliances thanks to the rise of network function virtualization (NFV) software. In fact, for the first time NFV software coupled with SDNs and open APIs will not only give application developers direct control over the WAN but also provide the core functionality required to make it possible to play one carrier off another when it comes time to negotiate contracts.
Vendors vie for WAN market share
Network infrastructure vendors already working toward turning software-defined WANs into reality include Akamai, Aryaka, Cisco Systems, CloudGenix, Distrix, Exinda, Fatpipe, Glue Networks, Hewlett-Packard, Netsocket, Pertino, Riverbed Technology, Siaras, Silver Peak, Talari, VeloCloud, Versa Networks, and Viptela. In addition, carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have already launched major software-defined WAN initiatives. Of course, the fact that software-defined WANs can now be accessed via the cloud also gives solution providers the option of working with cloud service providers rather than directly with traditional carriers to deliver these types of services.
It’s unclear at this point which vendors will ultimately come out on top, but the one thing that IT services providers can count on is a resulting wave of mergers and acquisitions as the walls between different classes of network services continue to come down.
In the meantime, software-defined WANs will make entire classes of networking services more accessible to providers of IT services in much the same way SDNs and software-defined storage are starting to transform the data center. But as compelling as next-generation WAN services may be, the real money will be in deploying and managing the next generation of cloud applications that ride on top of those network services.
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