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Software-Defined-Networking (SDN) Promise for SMBs

The Quotes

In a recent Techaisle depth-interview, the CIO of a Network Dependent (Techaisle’s proprietary Segmentation) Mid-Market business with 950 employees, 110 servers, 50 percent of servers virtualized, said, “Yes, I have heard about SDN. It’s a service where the architecture can be dynamically reconfigured or driven by a software personality layer as opposed to being hard-wired. Yes, we are planning to invest in it. Today the trend is towards intelligent networking. Software defined networking is something that can be used to automatically handle the traffic in the network. So, we can expect reduced costs from this type of a service. Brocade and Cisco are the two companies that have good solutions about these services.”

Although the awareness starts to fall rapidly for lower employee sized businesses Software Defined Networking (SDN) holds promise within the SMB and Mid-market business segments.

The IT Manager of a 70 employee size business with 4 servers using cloud, virtualization and managed services belonging to Network Increases Efficiency segment (Techaisle proprietary networking segmentation) said in another depth interview, “Yes, I have heard about SDN. I think it probably has an advantage of being much more flexible because of the different approaches that it has to dynamic network management. It has certain development tools that can be used to operate different network services. We, first of all need to investigate more about this technology and then see how well it fits in our infrastructure and only after we find enough information of it fitting the bill, should we implement it.”

The Opportunity

Techaisle’s research finds that 3 percent of small businesses and 11 percent of mid-market businesses globally have heard about Software Defined Networks. In the US the awareness jumps to 19 percent among mid-market businesses. SMBs that have some knowledge about SDNs, exhibit enhanced interest to adopt them in next 12-18 months with the objective of reducing their network related CAPEXs and managing their growth in cloud, mobility, big data technology usages.

Techaisle’s market sizing estimates that the SMB market for SDN will be US$204 million in 2016 growing at CAGR of nearly 81 percent. The market could open up more once the awareness and use cases increase.

The Concept

Software-defined networking (SDN) is a new approach to building computer networks that separates and abstracts the underlying networking elements thereby making the network more agile. SDN allows system administrators to quickly provision and program network connections on the fly instead of manually configuring policies. Administrators have programmable central control of network traffic without requiring physical access to the network's hardware devices.  Some even call this 'virtualizing the network', in the sense that each individual hardware switch may be part of multiple Layer 2 and Layer 3 networks and have its configuration and traffic management policies dynamically changed by the master network controller.

The Strides Made

Most of the large IT vendors have made very strong commitments to providing SDN solutions. Prominent among the larger IT vendors are:

    • Avaya with its Application Development Network (ADN)

 

    • Brocade with its Vyatta acquisition

 

    • Cisco with its Open Network Environment (ONE) and Cariden acquisition and funding of Insiemi

 

    • Dell with its Virtual Network Architecture (VNA)

 

    • HP with its Virtual Application Networks (VAN)

 

    • IBM with its Distributed Overlay Virtual Ethernet (DOVE)

 

    • Juniper with its Contrail Systems acquisition

 

    • VMware with its Nicira acquisition



Then there is OpenFlow, closely associated with SDN, an industry consortium of about 70 members, much like the Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit group that oversees development of the OpenFlow protocol. Both Google and Facebook have adopted OpenFlow (ONF) protocol within their data center operations. And most of the new switches from networking vendors like Arista, Brocade, Dell/Force10, Extreme, Huawei, HP, IBM, Juniper, NEC, and Pronto are OpenFlow compatible.

‘OpenDaylight’ Project which includes Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, Ericsson, IBM, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Red Hat, NEC and VMware, aims to provide an open-source software-defined-networking (SDN) controller, with vendor-agnostic interfaces thereby accelerating innovation around the SDN controller itself.

All of the above points to tremendous jostling for leadership roles and confusion in the market place. In spite of the confusion, SDN will continue to gain acceptance as enterprises will develop proof of concepts and the market itself will shake out the true leaders in the next 3-4 years.

The Promise for SMBs

SDN is ideally suited for the SMB segment with its promise of reducing complexity, costs and management along with easing implementation of cloud, mobility, social and big data connectivity.

Specifically within the mid-market segment, SDN will begin to pop-up in conversations among CIOs and IT Directors when they find their businesses faced with:

    • Increased public and private Cloud adoption

 

    • Network's inability to provide flexibility required to support virtualization, cloud, and mobility

 

    • Inefficient network and traffic management with the explosion of devices, worker locations and applications

 

    • Deployment of ultra-low latency networks to effect real-time transactions especially for the financial services vertical and those working on big data analytics



Announcement from HP

However, it must be said, that SMBs will look for product solutions with embedded SDN. We are already starting to see some solutions for the SMB market segment along the same lines. A new BYOD solution bundle was announced at HP’s recent Global Partner Conference. The solution includes end-to-end management software, switches with integrated wired and wireless capabilities, and is extended with a software-defined security solution. Ever bullish on the SMB market, HP believes this is an easily deployable, complete solution for a small to medium sized-business, very cost-effective and that provides investment protection with free switch software upgrades for OpenFlow support. Not only does it mean lower capex, but also less maintenance and less complexity.

Indeed, there’s a viable play for SDN for SMBs. A perfect use case could include implementation of virtual routed network on hypervisors, a web-based unified management application for provisioning, monitoring and control of the entire distributed network.

Technology complexity is continuing to increase for SMBs. And Techaisle is finding that majority of SMBs are required to re-architect and re-configure their networks to make a move to cloud or virtualization. Most of these SMBs take external assistance either from an IT Consultant or their channel partner. Nevertheless, they all have one refrain that reconfiguration is extremely complex, time-consuming and resource intensive.

Final Remarks

SDN is yet very complex even for the most cutting edge and aggressive technology adopter SMBs. It requires tools and structures that are still evolving. Managed services was introduced into the market several years ago but the RMM, PSA and other tools are still being refined so one should not expect the channels or the SMBs to jump onto SDN immediately.

sdn-smb-techaisle-blog

There will be a lag between the enterprise and the SMB adopters. However, once products are available with SDN capabilities, SMBs will adopt SDN faster than enterprises. The SMBs that have virtualized their servers and storage will be the early adopters. Looking at potential savings SDN will a difficult opportunity to pass up on by the SMBs.

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Cloud Object Storage – a datacenter component for mid-market businesses

Dropbox, Carbonite and many others have accelerated the use of Cloud storage in the consumer market for backup of music, photo, file sharing and more recently with various social networking needs and media sites. Similarly, Box.net has established its strong presence within the business segment. Techaisle’s SMB and mid-market business MarketView forecast shows that cloud storage will be a US$1.1 Billion market by 2016 growing at a 37 percent CAGR.

It would not be out of place to say that businesses are always very concerned about regulations and business policies requiring them to retain data for longer periods. Add to this the intricacies involving data protection via backups and replication, data scalability requirements and data availability needs across multiple geographies - the complexities and cost with storing massive amounts of data that is generated across the enterprise becomes huge.

Though it has limitations, an object based Cloud storage solution addresses many of the business challenges above – a scalable, easily replicable, pay-as-you go solution that is geographically accessible through public internet solution, thereby meeting businesses’ most demanding requirements with respect to their data storage policies.

Given the cost competitiveness, scalability and security attributes, backed by enterprise grade SLAs, Object Storage in the Cloud is an extremely viable option for the small and medium businesses (SMBs) looking to migrate their datacenters into the Cloud. RAID arrays are mostly used by mid-sized businesses but that is no protection against a disaster or any malware attacks.

What is Object Storage and why it is significant for mid-market businesses?

An object Storage solution breaks storage data into distinct segments, or ‘Objects’, each containing a unique identifier (or metadata) that allows data retrieval.

Valet parking is often cited as an analogy for Object Storage. When parking at a garage, the attendant gives a claim ticket that identifies the car that allows the driver to pick up the car later. The driver is not concerned where the car is parked as long as it is identifiable when it is time for pick up. Object Storage, likewise, stores data (objects) and retrieves when required based on its unique identifier.

Object Storage differs from traditional Storage Area Network (SAN) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) in that the former is ‘Object Based’ and has the following characteristics:

    • Each object has its own ID, metadata, data protection policy and is unlike any file system where files often inherit attributes from their parent containers/files/directories.

 

    • There is no limit on volume restriction of size of file systems – unlimited scalability, not limited on infrastructure capacity maximums.

 

    • Data is accessible anywhere over HTTPs - availability of the service can be anywhere on the internet. Hence this is latency sensitive.

 

    • Data is typically retrieved via a RESTful or SOAP based API Web service. Storage vendors have their own proprietary API platforms – e.g. Amazon S3, Nirvanix APIs, OpenStack or EMC Atmos platforms. Any programming language that supports web service-based API calls to remote systems can be used to build applications around the storage solutions.

 

    • Price, which is normally based on usage, is much lower than traditional Block and File storage solutions. Businesses typically pay a per-gigabyte rate for upload and download and a per-gigabyte fee for monthly storage. In addition, some providers charge for each data access request based on reads, writes, etc.



Use Cases

    • Data Archiving and backup: Retain data that needs to be easily accessible and always available but is not constantly used in real-time.

 

    • Data Compliance Requirements: Must keep data safely and reliably for audits, reporting, regulatory compliance, discovery, backup and restore, or disaster recovery.

 

    • Data accessibility: Have a library of content and/or media files that employees in many locations must access to download items. Also need employees in many locations to be able to upload or download files.

 

    • Web 2.0 and Social Media: Manage exploding data growth or have fluctuating data storage requirements - Object storage systems have massive scale and provide moderate performance at low cost.



Medical Imaging and medical records applications also have massive use for Object Storage due to sheer volume of data storage requirements. Healthcare Vertical, particularly, have shown high adoption rates for Object based storage.

Competitive Landscape

The market is yet very fragmented though Amazon AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) is considered the leader in this space. Though it has challenges, AWS is a highly innovative service and has created AWS Storage Gateway that enables hybrid storage architectures that span both on and off premise storage options.  Nirvanix, a pure play Cloud Storage provider that offers public, hybrid or on-premise Nirvanix-powered storage services which are priced for various support levels. There are other big names such as Google, Windows Azure Blob, Rackspace CloudFiles, AT&T’s Synaptic Cloud Storage and recently Savvis has also entered the Cloud Object Storage space.

Vendors seek to differentiate themselves on price, quality of services (QoS), SLAs and hybrid architectures. At the same time they tend to gravitate towards some established storage and compute platforms to enable standardization, achieve economies of scale and allow for ecosystem build-up. This allows their business customers to combine their storage solutions with any third party solution that uses a similar platform. For example, AT&T Synaptic and Savvis are aligned with EMC Atmos Storage Platform, whereas providers like HP, Rackspace CloudFiles and SoftLayer are aligned wtih OpenStack platform. This enables any third party solution that is based on the above platforms to be combined with storage solutions offering any custom configurations. AmazonS3 is an exception that is based on its own AWS Storage Gateway.

Techaisle Take

Justifiably, there is a great deal of hype today around Object Storage, especially relating to its Cloud, Social Media and Big Data applications. However, it is important to understand the specific use cases and workloads Object Storage can be useful for, given its limitations such as Latency sensitivity, lack of standardization among object storage interfaces and in some specific uses where the stored data is modified frequently and hence not suitable for an Object Storage solution.

Upcoming report: Techaisle's Cloud Object Storage Competitive Landscape report.
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