Service providers may covet the heady promises being made by software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) purveyors but they are holding fire on their purchases, a trend that’s having a deleterious effect on sales of traditional networking gear, a new report reveals.
Global sales of carrier-grade routers and switches — including IP edge and core routers and carrier Ethernet switches (CES) – fell to $3.2 billion in the first quarter of 2014, a 13-percent decline from the previous quarter and essentially flat from a year ago, according to Infonetics Research’s latest Service Provider Routers and Switches report.
The culprit, analysts say, is hesitation fomented by a lack of clarity around SDN and NFV and what it might mean to service providers’ strategy in the near term.
“Last quarter, we identified the ‘SDN hesitation,’ where we believe the enormity of the coming software-defined networking and network functions virtualization (NFV) transformation is making carriers be more cautious with their spending,” said Infonetics analyst and co-founder Michael Howard. “This hesitation reared its head in the first quarter of 2014, where global service provider router and switch revenue increased only 2 percent from the year-ago quarter.”
All major geographical regions were down sequentially; North America was also down year over year, the report states. That has Infonetics predicting tepid growth in the carrier networking equipment markets with estimated five-year CAGRs of 4.3 percent for edge routers, 2.9 percent for core routers, and less than 1 percent for carrier Ethernet switches.
In the new Infonetics report, the top four router and CES vendors remained in top positions in Q1, with the second and fourth place vendors swapping places. Cisco Systems Inc. remains in first place followed by Juniper Networks Inc. in second, Alcatel-Lucent SA in third and Huawei Technologies Co. in fourth. Last quarter Huawei was in second place with Juniper in fourth.
Just about every list of technology predictions for this year included some mention of software-SDN as a space destined for mainstream adoption in the coming year. But the reality appears to be that SDN remains largely misunderstood and that early uptake is benefiting only a few large vendors in the rarified air of large enterprise networking.
A recent survey of IT decision makers by QuinStreet Enterprise and Palmer Research indicated few businesses are jumping headlong into SDN, despite the technology’s much-hyped promises of cheaper and more flexible networks that shift network intelligence from complicated and pricey hardware to programmable software-based network controllers.
Fewer than one third of respondents to QuinStreet’s 2014 Data Center Outlook: Data Center Transformation study said they’ve deployed SDN or have plans to do so in the next year. About 40 percent said they have no plans at all to use SDN in their organizations.
“The important question that everyone wants answered is: ‘What’s the real market for SDN?’” said Cliff Grossner, directing analyst for data center and cloud research at Infonetics said. Grossner adds that SDN is going through a “classic market adoption cycle,” with many entrants looking for a niche but most end-user organizations still “kicking the tires.”
Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research, was more blunt.
“The mania and hype around software-defined networks is at an all-time high,” wrote Kerravala. “It reminds me of Wrestlemania IV when Macho Man Randy Savage partnered with Hulk Hogan and the Mega Powers. Unlike SDNs though, The Savage/Hogan tandem actually delivered and both went on to win several WWF belts.
“Most companies I talk to couldn’t give two hoots about SDN. Most application developers really have no concept of how to leverage an SDN to build more intelligent applications,” said Kerravala.
To Kerravala’s point, potential adopters probably won’t get there until vendors begin to provide better value propositions and leadership in addition to the SDN and NFV hype.
Nearly 40 percent of those SDN hopefuls polled by QuinStreet said they are looking for large networking vendors that can provide a solution within the framework of converged infrastructure. Thirty-two percent want software-based solutions with strictly virtualized hardware and central management and just a quarter will opt for internally developed SDN solutions.
In the meantime, the promise of a nascent technology will continue to roil traditional carrier networking markets and a transformation slowly gains momentum, analysts say.
“We believe the current generation of high-capacity edge and core routers can be nursed along for a while as the detailed steps of the SDN-NFV transformation are defined by each service provider—and many of the largest operators in the world are involved, including AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, NTT, China Telecom, and China Mobile,” said Infonetic’s Howard. “And there is intensifying focus on multiple content delivery networks and smart traffic management across various routes and alternative routes to make routers and optical gear cooperate more closely.”
This article originally appeared on Channelnomics.