"Software-Defined", from concept... to a 150 billion euros market

"Software-Defined", from concept... to a 150 billion euros market

Critics ranked "Software-Defined" in the "buzzwords" category, 7-8 years ago, while others still consider it as a marketing formula, used to wrap up an abstract concept with limited applicability.

Nevertheless, public perception has changed radically, because "Software-Defined" (SD) represents at present not only a "concept", but also a market of billions of euros, which is growing at a fast pace.

For example, by 2023:

  • The Software-Defined Networking market will reach a value of 53 billion euros, registering an annual growth rate of + 42.4% [1]
  • The Software-Defined Storage solutions market - 18.8 billion euros, increasing by + 25.8% [2]
  • The Software-Defined Data Center market - 86.5 billion euros, increasing by +23.6% [3]

At a total value of over 150 billion euros, it is clear that SD solutions no longer suffer from the "limited applicability" syndrome. However, in order to understand how such values have been reached in such a short time, a brief trip back in time is necessary and useful.

It all started with...

...the radio transmission technology. Or at least that is the opinion of the SD historians. Almost three decades ago, a traditional radio communication system used several physically connected components, whose configurations could be modified only manually. However, even when doing this, operators were limited in options by the specifications of the components and the manner in which they were connected. Basically, any major technological change required - especially in the case of companies operating large infrastructures, such as telecom operators - careful planning because it involved considerable investments.

By the '80s, however, the components began to become digital and to "take over" the specific functionalities in software (amplification, mixing, filtering, etc.). By emulating these functions, the systems have become more flexible, allowing to be configured according to the needs and requirements of the operators, and not just the specifications of the component manufacturers.

The popularity of the term Software-Defined Radio (SDR) increased in the second half of the '90s, when applications multiplied and, through software reprogramming, the equipment began to operate in other spectrum frequencies, to communicate with more devices and to expand their functionality. The new concept was especially exploited by mobile telecom operators, which, using SDR, were able to develop their service offer by adding network functionality, capitalizing on the benefits of other available spectrum bands and adapting to new generations of technologies. The switch from 2G to 3G and then to 4G was supported by SDR, which allowed operators to be agile and to better exploit business opportunities.

SD evolution in the IT industry

In parallel with the evolution of SDR, the IT industry has been "flirting" for several years with the SD concept, through which a separation is made between the control plan, taken over completely by software, and the hardware one. The most eloquent example in this regard is the development of virtualization technologies, namely of hypervisors, which ensures the creation, running and management of several virtual machines on a physical machine and the automatic allocation of available resources.

At the beginning of the 2010s, the first materialisations of the Software-Defined Networking (SDN) concept appeared. A natural evolution, considering that the network represents a "predominantly manual" domain, in which the configuration and management operations are still carried out through direct physical interventions. The increase of the levels of complexity and heterogeneity of the IT infrastructures, however, forced the companies that want to ensure higher parameters of availability and quality of the services to take the step towards abstraction, that is to adopt SDN solutions. And as the expected developments show - + 42.4% growth rate of the niche market - more and more organizations are facing this need. Especially since SDN has already become a key element in integrating on-premises infrastructures with Cloud platforms and creating hybrid environments, increasingly used in recent years.

And because Cloud mobility and services are already essential components of most businesses, the Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) has inevitably appeared, which allows for dynamic adaptation to changing traffic conditions and connectivity requirements of applications, integrating security features.

In parallel with the evolution of the SDN, the Software-Defined Storage (SDS) approach has also been developed, through which the available storage resources in an infrastructure can be managed in a centralised manner. Even though the name is still controversial, "traditionalists" claiming that the notion of storage virtualization precedes and sub-includes SDS, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) accredited the acronym in 2014 with the first market analysis report. Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) is considered to be the next step in the evolution of data centres and Cloud Computing. The concept comprises both the SDN and SDS domains (hence the higher value of the SDDC market) and that of server virtualization.

What are the benefits?

The list of gains ensured by the SD approach differs depending on the scope and is constantly expanding along with each technology development. There are, however, a number of "common denominators":

  • Operational simplification - SD solutions simplify and automate the implementation of configuration and management processes, reducing the risk of human error. The savings achieved by reducing the burden of IT departments, increasing the speed of response to incidents, and reducing the time required to make changes are directly quantifiable financial advantages.
  • Reducing hardware dependency - SD infrastructures allow companies to escape the limitations imposed by equipment vendors. In addition, it facilitates the use of already purchased hardware solutions and alleviates compatibility problems, thus improving the total return on investment (Roi), respectively its depreciation time.
  • Increasing the levels of availability, agility and security - through the gains listed above, companies can ensure the quality of service delivery (QoS), as well as the observance of performance parameters needed by enterprise solutions to run at optimum efficiency. In addition, by integrating numerous data and application protection options, "Software-Defined" strategies contribute to increasing the level of security in both on-premises and cloud environments.

Despite these solid arguments, the adoption of the SD concept comes with a number of challenges, inherent in any new technology. In addition to financial "aspects", the implementation and operation of a Software-Defined infrastructure requires a major change throughout the organisation. And, despite the flexibility and adaptability of SD solutions, many organisations are still analysing optimal usage scenarios.

The concept is evolving

The SD concept has matured and evolved rapidly in recent years. Nowadays there is an increasing emphasis on "Software-Defined-Everything" (SDE) and its scope is expanding with approaches such as Software-Defined Security (SDS) or Software-Defined Power (SDP).

It is risky to make estimates on the rate of adoption of these new developments of the concept. But we will present in a series of future posts a series of SD solutions that have already been confirmed on the market and which are validated through numerous implementations.

ECKO is the first company in Romania to implement a Nutanix project on hyperconvergent infrastructure, with Lenovo nodes, integrating both SDN and SDS solutions. Also using Lenovo nodes in the StorSelect Software Defined Storage (SDS) program, this time together with NEXENTA, ECKO has implemented software defined storage solutions for both production environments and backup repositories. Whether with these technologies or VMware VSAN, Dell EMC VxRail, StarWind, Cisco HyperFlex, or opensource solutions, our specialists can help you decide if SD solutions are the choice you really need. We are available at any time for a proof of concept.

[1] - Software Defined Networking Market Research Report Global Forecast 2023

[2] - Software-Defined Storage Industry 2019

[3] - Software-Defined Data Center Market