The Business of Software-Defined Networks

How the emerging field will transform a multitude of industries

12 December 2014

Credit: iStockphoto

The following is an excerpt of a post that appeared originally on the IEEE Software-Defined Network blog .

There are a number of estimations for the market growth of software-defined networks (SDNs)—networks of equipment that decouple hardware from software and then executes such software in the cloud or in clusters of distributed IT servers. These reports are dependent on the metrics adopted by analysts. For example, according to Transparency Market Research, SDNs are forecast to be a US $3.52 billion market by 2018, while another estimation from Gigaom Research is predicting a $2.45 billion market in that time. Comparing just these two reports show that there is quite a range in how large SDNs could become in just the next few years.

These estimations depend on a number of variables, including the adoption rate and the regulation of the technology. SDNs should, however, be seen as what is known as “network IT-zation,” meaning it will make telecommunications infrastructure more pervasive, flexible, and capable of supporting terminals, rather than simply the evolution of networking. This will change the perspective for businesses, especially when considering how it will intersect with cloud and fog computing—fog meaning down near the users—as well as with the Internet of Things. Network IT-ization will also enable new markets for other industries that might not have considered switching to SDNs.

Consider the number of devices connected to telecommunications systems, which are growing at an exponential rate. In a few years, the worldwide telecommunications network will become similar to a distributed computational system, seamlessly interconnecting a tremendous number of terminals, devices, and smart objects, including robots and drones.

Although it is difficult to predict the global business market today, what is certain is that SDNs are going to have a deep impact from a socioeconomic perspective and not only for the telecommunications industry.  

Agriculture, for example, is an industry that will benefit from the adoption of SDNs. On a post on the IEEE Software Defined Network blog, I mention how in the future robots and drones will look like SDN nodes—or even better—like any other low-cost consumer electronic device. These devices will introduce changes to agriculture that we haven’t seen since the agrarian revolution with robot-intensive, data-driven tools that will optimize the use of resources like water while reducing the amount of pesticides needed. These devices will provide farmers with customized services, such as visual displays of soil variation, pest infestations, and irrigation problems, which they can access in real time.

These types of changes can transform the industry to a high-tech research lab that would involve big-data specialists to be employed to help make agricultural decisions, ultimately saving time, resources, and money.

These advances will be made possible due to the availability of affordable technologies, including tiny sensors such as accelerometers and pressure sensors, as well as small GPS modules, powerful processors, and radio communications, which will ultimately rely on SDN technology.

Antonio Manzalini is an IEEE member and chair of the IEEE Software Defined Networks Initiative. He is also a senior manager at the Future Centre in Turin, Italy, part of the telecommunications giant’s strategy and innovation department where he is in charge of investigating SDN, NFV, and 5G technologies.

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