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"We'll see big Fortune 500s really lead the charge and say, 'Hey, here's the stuff that's mature enough for us to put into our networks,'" Forster says.
And while OpenFlow today has been focused on Layer 2/3 virtualization, Forster expects 2013 to usher in more players focused on Layer 4-7 applications and services, such as firewalls, application delivery controllers and monitoring in multitenant environments.
"Solving the whole problem [for customers] is very, very important," Forster says.
Nobody has more traditional network customers than Cisco. The company ended the suspense around its SDN strategy with the announcement last year of the Cisco ONE programmable network scheme, which includes the onePK API to instill programmability into Cisco routers and switches.
Cisco plans to roll out onePK on its three strategic operating systems - IOS, IOS XR and NX OS - meaning more Cisco products will become programmable in 2013. And with 70% to 80% market share in enterprise routing and switching, that means more users will be testing or implementing programmable networks next year.
"2013 is going to be huge for deployments," says David Ward, chief architect and CTO of Cisco's Service Provider division. "We have a lot in the pipeline that's going to come out" across our enterprise, data center, cloud, mobility and WAN service provider product lines.
Besides working to implement onePK across its operating systems, Cisco has been bulking up the orchestration capabilities of a programmable onePK environment, making a few acquisitions in 2012 to support that effort. The goal, Ward says, is to simplify IT operations for Cisco's varied customer sets.
OnePK helps accelerate network operations by providing a uniform interface across Cisco's three strategic operating systems. Then, service rollout becomes more flexible and agile, and compute, networking and storage resources become readily accessible and more accommodating.
Nicira, which was acquired by VMware last year for $1.2 billion, has been working with customers for two years to implement data center network virtualization. The company expects many more customers to publicly emerge in 2013, but as a prelude to more substantial evidence the following year.
"2013 will be the announcements and pre-announcements," says Martin Casado, CTO and co-founder of Nicira. "But in 2014, you'll really see the rubber hit the road. You'll see a more mature adoption curve."
So what might disrupt all of this momentum?
"I think we'll see a Balkanization where the traditional SDN interface will be more suited for research and educational type uses, and where applications like network virtualization are customer and product focused," Casado says. "I don't think there'll be anything to change the momentum from a high level - people want more flexible networks. But it's not going to be some big unified front like we're seeing now," he says. That's because vendors will start to customize their offerings in an attempt to distinguish their products.