Network virtualization has long been the neglected little sister of server virtualization and storage virtualization, but software-defined networking (SDN) technology may, finally, be about to step out into the spotlight.
SDN has certainly been waiting in the wings for long enough. The first commercial implementation of SDN was probably network virtualization pioneer Nicira's technology back at the beginning of the decade. Since then, Nicira has been swallowed by VMware and turned into NSX, of course, but SDN has always been up and coming without ever actually seeming to arrive.
Until now, that is. Things seem to be happening very rapidly in the world of SDN at the moment. The entire SDN market was estimated to be worth about $2.2 billion in 2016. That's not a small amount, but consider this: research firm Market Insights believes its value will explode to $88 billion by 2024.
A recent survey by Verizon backs up the idea that SDN's time has finally hit the mainstream. "15 percent of companies surveyed are already piloting or deploying SDN technologies, and this is set to rise to 57 percent within two years, with 12 percent expecting to have deployed SDN throughout their entire organization in that time frame," the report says.
Who is implementing SDN then? "We have over 7,500 customers running on NSX, and maybe the stat that I'm most proud of is 82 percent of the Fortune 100 has now adopted NSX," Pat Gelsinger, VMware's chief executive, said during the keynote address at the VMworld conference in Las Vegas in August.
SDN About to Get a Big Boost with Windows Server 2019 Release
And there's more. Much more. Microsoft has (finally) got big plans for SDN, and the first part of this is adding a new iteration of the technology into its Windows Server 2019, which is due out some time in the latter half of this year.
"If you've ever deployed Software-Defined Networking (SDN), you know it provides great power but is historically difficult to deploy," the company said in a recent networking blog post. "Now, with Windows Server 2019, it's easy to deploy and manage through a new deployment UI and Windows Admin Center extension that will enable anyone to harness the power of SDN. Even better, these improvements also apply to SDN in Windows Server 2016!"
Implementing Microsoft's SDN won't involve customers paying extra licensing fees, because the technology is just part and parcel of the high-end version, built into Microsoft's Software-Defined Data Center offering. "It's all included in Windows Server Datacenter edition, so any SDDC deployment, from two-node hyper-converged systems up to multi-rack data-center deployments, will benefit from these capabilities… at no extra cost!," the blog post explains, rather breathlessly.
This Microsoft blog post, entitled "SDN Goes Mainstream" was one in a series produced by the company highlighting its top 10 networking features in Windows Server 2019. It's difficult to overlook the fact that a large number of them are network virtualization related.
For example, highlighted feature number 1 is Container networking with Kubernetes. "With Windows Server 2019, we greatly improved usability of Kubernetes on Windows by enhancing platform networking resiliency and support of container networking plugins," the company says.
Feature 4 is everything related to SDN security, and includes encrypted subnets, virtual network peering, IPv6 support, firewall logging, and fabric ACLs.
Meanwhile, feature 6 is High-Performance SDN Gateways, and this encompasses the considerably higher gateway network performance that customers can expect with Windows Server 2019 in SDN setups. "Network throughput for GRE tunnels in Windows Server 2019 without SDN varies from 2 to 5 Gbps; with SDN it leapfrogs to the range of 3 to 15 Gbps!!!," the company exclaims.
It also highlights the improvement in SDN networking with the new OS and IPSec tunnels. "For IPsec tunnels, the Windows Server 2019 SDN network throughput is about 1.8 Gbps for 1 tunnel and about 5 Gbps for 8 tunnels. Compare this to Windows Server 2016 where the network throughput of a single tunnel was 300 Mbps, and the aggregate IPsec network throughput for a gateway VM was 1.8 Gbps."
It's hard to avoid the conclusion from all this that SDN is finally heading for the big time. It's been a long time in coming, but chances are high that within the next few years it will be like server and storage virtualization: notable in organizations only by its absence.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.