The ‘third’ in this cloud menage a trois is the network, which is joining Storage and Compute as a Software Defined Resources that can be allocated on demand through a self-service API or portal. As a term “Software Defined” is in race to catch up with established but equally vague terms such as “on demand” and “as a Service” and surfacing in all kinds of combinations.
The current frontrunner – Software Defined Networking (SDN) – might very well already be the most hyped term of 2013. All network technology providers are busy either building or acquiring SDN capabilities but the largest acquisition to date (for more than one billion dollars) was done by a virtualization platform provider. Meanwhile most network providers are looking to leverage SDN to increase the agility and reduce the cost of the services they provide.
An important reason for the interest in SDN is the size of the market it is promising to disrupt. The total revenue for Network and Communication services makes up a large part total worldwide IT spending. Of the total 3.7 trillion IT spending in 2013 46 percent will be spent on Telecom Services (next to 8 percent on software, 22 percent on hardware and 25 percent on IT Services). Any development that such a large proportion of the total cost influences can count on great interest, also from the telecom industry itself. At the SDN World Congress in Darmstadt no less than 13 of the largest telecommunications companies announced a joint initiative to promote ‘Network Function Virtualization. This initiative encourages network technology providers to enable their network functions to run on (clouds of) industry standard servers instead of on proprietary hardware appliances.
The main advantage of a software defined network – just like any other kind of software defined infrastructure construct – is that it no longer consists of dedicated and proprietary boxes with names like: firewall, load balancer, router, etc. If an organization tomorrow suddenly two times more firewalls than load balancers needs (or vice versa), they can just provision other software on their existing hardware. In addition everything that is controlled by software can be much easier automated than something that is based on hardware. And this offers benefits not just to providers but also to end users as it can reduce the time needed to reconfigure en network to changing needs from several days or weeks to a few hours, or even shorter. And as a result the network can become as dynamic a cloud resource as compute and storage already were.
But let’s not forget that for many organizations the transition to ‘as a Service’ and “on demand” began in the network area. Back in the 80-ties companies started to give up their own in-house controlled and managed wide area networks in exchange for the use of shared packet-switched networks, often based of X.25 and commonly called the “public data network”. Maybe something to remember for those currently afraid of “public clouds”?