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"SDN is a network approach that's arisen to support the needs to cloud computing, virtualization and multi-tenancy," Casemore says. "Workloads have changed - there is more virtual traffic, which has necessitated the need for a lot more flexibility in the data center." Still though, it's in the early days. The earliest adopters have been cloud service providers and massive web-scale companies, such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Rackspace.
Various vendors are taking different approaches to offering SDN products and services. Some are creating SDN-enabled switches, routers and network equipment. Others are taking a software approach that would allow the network to be virtualized through central controllers.
Companies like HP, Dell, IBM, Cisco and Oracle are taking approaches to provide an integrated system of both hardware and software for enabling SDN, which would include both servers, storage, networking and management control planes.
Others are taking a more software-focused approach, allowing for commodity or low-cost hardware devices to be controlled by software systems. VMware, Microsoft and IBM are working in this area as well. (Note IBM is working in both camps.)
Then, there are other vendors providing higher-level network services that are necessary (security, firewalls, load balancing). Finally, there is a nascent but emerging industry around professional services, such as organizations for deploying SDN systems and supporting them post-adoption.
"We wouldn't have even been having these conversations three years ago," Mehra says. "Three years from now we'll be able to look back to get an idea of how disruptive this has all been."
Read more about cloud computing in Network World's Cloud Computing section.