Every December most reporters across Canada engage in a vicious and gut-wrenching ritual: Looking backwards at the last 12 months so they can predict events of the next 12.

My track record on this has been particularly undistinguished so I dare you to read on:

3: Software-defined networks emerge, slowly

Software-defined networks were big news in 2012, with almost every network-equipment maker and a number of software startups announcing strategies and a few working pieces of equipment.

Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Brocade Communications and many others made SDN announcements this year and more will come in 2013 – more SDN-comparable hardware more SDN software applications.

HP gives more detail of SDN strategy
Cisco close to releasing SDN components

Above all, this year will likely see at least one Canadian university or research network put into production an SDN.

But that doesn’t mean the technology is mature. The fact is that while the potential advantages of SDNs are real, enterprises still haven’t seen them in action and will largely stay on the sidelines in 2013. It will be up to service and content providers – who will be the biggest beneficiaries of software-defined networking – to do the early production work this year.

Vendors still have to release the management tools and application delivery controllers SDN needs, adds Zeus Kerravala, principal at ZK Research.

Think back to the days of server virtualization, he said. It was a niche technology for several years before organizations had more virtual than physical machines.

For that reason, he believes 2013 will see vendors flesh out their SDN platforms

A refresher: SDN separates a networks control plane from the data plane, allowing centralized control of the network so virtual machines can easily move from server to server. SDNs could also control carrier network traffic through their control over network switches.

But, Kerravala says, while SDNs promise to bring agility to the enterprise, they are also complex to manage. He’s one of the analysts who believes the lack of management tools are inhibiting SDNs in organizations.

Case studies are everything, he says, and enterprises still haven’t seen enough of them yet to bring SDNs out of demonstration mode.

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