SDN to spur partner growth

As the software-defined networking (SDN) market begins to hit its stride, channel companies stand to benefit from networks that are easier to manage and adjust more readily to new customer applications. SDN is a network architecture that allows for a centralised, programmable control plane, which reduces the administrative burden of having to configure individual networking devices.

Finesse, Condo Protego, AGM Kooheji

With its potential to help organisations consolidate and modernise their network infrastructure while rationalising costs, SDN (Software-Defined Networking) is starting to gain traction with larger enterprises in the Middle East.

It remains a very young market – to date, software-defined storage has been the main focus for early adopters – but all the signs are that the region will follow the global trend of rising investment in solutions that enable the streamlined integration of legacy assets with emerging, sustainable networking technologies.

Estimates for the scale of this growth vary. Analyst firm IDC predicts that the worldwide SDN market will be worth $8bn by 2018, compared with just $960m in 2014. The 2015 SDN and NFV Market Size Report from SDxCentral suggested that the combined impact of SDN, NFV (Network Function Virtualisation), network virtualisation and next-generation network initiatives will break the $105bn barrier by 2020.

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Research firm Gartner is projecting that SDN will be deployed in more than 10,000 enterprise networks worldwide by the end of 2018.

Across the Middle East, from Bahrain to Dubai, the rise of SDN will be led predominantly by investment in large corporate and government infrastructure projects where a key goal – and the main challenge for suppliers and systems integrators – is to drive out the complexity of legacy systems and replace it with agile, streamlined and highly manageable networks.

At Bahrain distributor AJM Kooheji Group, assistant general manager Ali Mohd Akbar Khan said the assumption that SDN will only benefit large-scale data centres, and that it is not yet ready for prime time adoption, is misleading.

“The fact of the matter is that SDN is suitable for all levels of data centres, making configuration, management and monitoring a much simpler task, thus requiring less IT manpower,” he said. “This is an even more critical concern in smaller organisations without the IT infrastructure of a huge business. SDN is more than just hype or beta technology at this point. It is well established in production environments and is being shipped regularly by major networking vendors.”

He said solution providers will need to introduce SDN to their portfolios soon to adapt to these trends – and if they do so it will enable them to make demonstrate a wide variety off use cases as the emerging technologies mature. This, however, raises an inevitable skills challenge for the channel.

Given that SDN is effectively an umbrella term which requires expertise in a wide range of related applications, the need for this level of expertise in the channel has never been more urgent – particularly as customers will be looking to vendors and partners to fill inevitable in-house knowledge gaps.

“Partners need to continue to focus on developing or acquiring specialist skills and knowledge that can lead this transformation to next-generation infrastructures,” said Tom O’Reilly, CTO for Middle East and Africa at converged infrastructure vendor VCE.

“It will be vital for partners to take their current component-based knowledge of virtualisation, network, server and storage technologies that encourages ‘IT silo’ mind-sets and bridge the gap by developing cross-domain skills. The industry now simply demands this deep, blended skillset. By adopting these assets, partners have the potential to really differentiate themselves in the market.”

Solution providers also need to make careful judgements about how and why SDN is the best option for helping customers to consolidate and future-proof their network investment. And that means having the ability to assess network components and identify specific issues that SDN could address. These will vary from one customer to the next.

“It is the large enterprises which are showing a ready acceptance for adopting SDN,” said Sunil Paul, COO at systems integrator Finesse Direct. “Typically, enterprises with huge data traffic, and scattered network and devices, benefit hugely from SDN.

“Any enterprise that has deployed virtualisation and is looking to benefit from physical and virtual mobility between data centres will be a correct fit for SDN. Enterprises that have to deal with dynamic changes to their network will also benefit. SDN is especially effective for sectors like banking and telecommunications, which have several locations and complex networks.”

SDN will not be appropriate for every customer, and solution providers should be wary of offering it as the latest panacea.

“Software-defined technology may not be the best option for every Middle East organisation,” cautioned Savitha Bhaskar, COO at data storage and security specialist Condo Protego.

This means channel partners should also work with CIOs to consider the costs and skills requirements associated with SD-anything, compared with maintaining business-as-usual networks based on more traditional, specialised hardware solutions.

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