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IBM's SDN Poser

Ray Le Maistre

Is there going to be an SDN shake-out in 2014?

That question springs to mind as speculation about IBM's strategy does the rounds: The suggestion is that IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is looking to sell its SDN unit.

It seems counterintuitive that an IT giant would step back from what is one of the hottest technology trends in decades. But that doesn't mean it makes no sense.

IBM recently announced a $1.2 billion investment in its global network of datacenters used to deliver cloud services to enterprise customers. That's a major commitment. IBM is in the cloud services game for the long run and wants to be the main rival to Amazon Web Services Inc. .

Then IBM announced the sale of its x86 server product line to Lenovo, which suggests it has discounted any role it might have in being the supplier of generic hardware for network functions virtualization (NFV) deployments.

That agreement with Lenovo doesn't include the company's SDN for Virtual Environments product set, including OpenFlow-enabled switches, which is what is believed to be up for grabs now.

IBM is also hot on big data, and it's utilizing its Watson computing platform to develop analytics services and technologies for enterprises. The company also acquired analytics expert The Now Factory a few months ago to feed into this effort. (See IBM Acquires Analytics Expert.)

It seems, then, that IBM is picking its battles and focusing on what it regards as its strengths. That makes sense, right?

Now, even if IBM should sell its SDN unit, that doesn't mean it would be abandoning SDN totally. It is a Platinum Member of the OpenDaylight SDN initiative and will obviously need to be at the heart of virtualization developments as it evolves its cloud services and infrastructure. But that doesn't mean it needs to be going head-to-head with the likes of Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Nuage Networks , et al. in trying to sell SDN technology to the masses.

Keep an eye on IBM. Its decisions in the coming weeks and months might provide an interesting template for others. By the time 2015 comes, we might be looking back at an SDN shake-out. There could even be some indication here that the datacenter and enterprise SDN market, which was expected to be worth only about $360 million in 2013, according to IDC, requires a patient, slow-burn strategy to achieve worthwhile returns. Perhaps IBM isn't willing to wait. Even the anticipated growth of coming years leaves only so much business to go around among the IT giants.

Traditional telecom equipment vendors might also pause to think about their strategies too -- not so much whether they integrate/develop SDN capabilities into their platforms, but in terms of how much of their resources they need to apply to the R&D and marketing of an SDN-led strategy.

Play to your strengths -- that could be what IBM is reminding us all to do.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
1/31/2014 | 12:43:27 PM
Re: IBM just happened to be there....
I think that IBM, like a lot of companies, understands that "the cloud" is a fusion of IT and network value and that fusion could let players from one space slop over into the other.  If you're IBM you have to be looking west to Cisco as one of those with the ambitions to climb into the IT world through the cloud.  SDN is one of several technical elements of a "boundary layer" between IT and networking.  Make SDN very software-centric, driving white-box hardware, and you put a serious crimp in any network vendor's ambitions.  I think IBM probably thought in those terms when they got into SDN and OpenDaylight.  What I think they're now realizing is that this whole IT/network fusion thing is going to be hard, and Wall Street is driving IBM to produce something in a quarter and not in a couple years.  So they move on.  Is that smart?  Only if you believe in quarterly-results-groundhog-day.  You always end up getting to what you thought was "the future", and often sooner than you think.
User Rank: Blogger
1/31/2014 | 11:57:36 AM
Re: IBM just happened to be there....
Yes, if there is a shake-out, it could very well have even less to do with product worth or market wins than companies realizing they rushed into something for fear of missing the boat. For the public companies, there may be some pain to deal with in the short term if the broad perception is that they are pulling back from a hot market.
User Rank: Blogger
1/31/2014 | 11:42:41 AM
IBM just happened to be there....
IBM is the example 'de jour' but there has to be some perspective on the whole shift to SDN....

It's not for everyone, right? Not all companies can build a future business around SDN tech/consulting etc

So why it might seem crazy for a company such as IBM not to be 'in SDN,' it might make snese -- in the same way that it makes sense for Cisco customers will stick with Cisco no matter what the IP giant's SDN strategy, because they will be comfortable with the familiarity etc and caution at dealoing with new suppliers/partners...


Cisco Asks the Killer SDN Question

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