Mass adoption of SDN will definitely drive acceleration in data center upgrade cycles - once a critical mass of companies adopt it, their competitors will need to hurry to catch up, just to stay competitive. While we're getting closer, I don't think we're at that point yet, but even now, nearly every company with a data center has some sort of upgrade cycle or expansion in one stage of progress or another.
All data centers go through periodic upgrade cycles, often referred to as "server refresh cycles." Most large and some small operations have a specific set time period for this, where equipment is replaced when it reaches a certain age or is depreciated. In the past this cycle was 8-10 years, but in recent years many have been shorter such as 3-4 years. This is driven largely by business needs addressed by advances in technology - a server or switch manufactured today is far more powerful and energy efficient than one manufactured four years ago, and software is constantly advancing in the capabilities it offers an administrator. Software defined networking (SDN) is at the forefront of this transformation delivering higher performance and less reliance on specific vendors.
Is it time to upgrade now?
At any given time, an organization's predetermined update cycle may be coming into effect - and when it does, they need to make decisions about what new equipment to buy, and have the opportunity to upgrade their network structure. Some companies will accelerate their cycle to jump on the SDN bandwagon. Others determine if it's time for them to upgrade on their schedule - adoption driven by internal cycles regardless of external market drivers.
Network and data center upgrades take a lot of planning, so the people involved will be constantly following advancements in equipment, software, and design philosophies so that when the time is right they know exactly which options they want to evaluate. Let’s look at the switch side of the upgrade cycle:
Incumbent, Bare Metal/White Box or Glass Core?
When the time is right for a company to evaluate upgrade options, they'll typically consider #1, their current provider - the incumbent. Current trends can drive alternative choices so they're also going to consider one or two other options, because when upgrading you want to make sure you're getting the best solution for your company for today and the future!
The Open Compute Project has gained mindshare as one potential spine/leaf option where there is growing interest in the deployment of bare metal/white box switches and with open source or SDN architectures, so they'll look at an option in that realm for consideration #2, narrowing the field down to one option for in-depth evaluation based on their tolerance for DIY and risk. To minimize risk, this group includes considering a major alternative competitor to the incumbent who may have a branded white box/bare metal solution to bring down costs or increase agility.
Then there's the third and typically final consideration (most competitive situations are limited to three choices based on resources and time required to analyze and pilot). By differentiating from both the incumbent option and the white box option, Fiber Mountain's Glass Core provides a different - and intriguing - #3 option. For the transition period we include Fiber Mountain branded (or other certified) white box SDN switches and can integrate with existing equipment, but our architecture eliminates or minimizes switches and multiple solutions using optical fiber at the core based on a pure SDN architecture.
The Glass Core is comprised of the Optical Path Exchange (OPX), with AllPath Director SDN software featuring Programmable Light Paths (PLPs) to create direct paths between any two devices for ultra-low latency and extremely high performance scalable operation. When utilizing Fiber Mountain’s solution, additional capabilities include SDN Performance and Monitoring to offload core switches and deliver active terabit TAP capabilities to diagnostic and analytic devices.
To read more about Fiber Mountain’s Glass Core, click here.