You cannot fail to have noticed how much coverage software-defined networking (SDN) has been getting over the last year or so. Vendors, analysts and end users have been lining up to discuss its potential impact on not just the networking but also in the data centre and for cloud providers, telecoms companies and of course businesses using these companies.

Although it is early days for SDN the benefits to networking companies, service providers, end users and more are clear to see. However it is fair to say that the potential and excitement has not yet translated into widespread use.

In fact a recent study from QuinStreet Enterprise and Palmer Research revealed that less than 30% of its respondents have deployed or plan to deploy SDN over the next 12 months, while 40% have no plans at all to implement SDN.

There is still however a lot of confidence about the future of software-defined networking. One piece of research, for example, predicted that the market could be worth as much as $35 billion by 2018 and that between 30% and 40% of all network-related spend could be on SDN. Quite amazing figures.

Those that are planning to embrace SDN should see a variety of benefits as a result of moving the intelligence from expensive hardware to cheaper, centralised software: increased scalability and flexibility, improved provisioning of applications, reduced costs and improved management capabilities.

Another potential benefit is that it will vastly improve the performance of applications. However that’s only true if SDN impacts layer 4-7, and so far most of what we’re seeing in the SDN space is at layer 2-3. Traffic further up the stack needs to be looked after as well, if those all-important applications are to be kept running at full speed.

Including layer 4-7 features within an SDN architecture means load balancing, application management and more can be included in and managed from the same centralised location, reducing the need for extra appliances in the system. It’s one of the reasons we acquired LineRate Systems early last year. The company’s products operate at layer 7 of the network stack, keeping all the important applications moving along and preventing bottlenecks in the network.

It’s also why our recent Synthesis announcement is so important, as it virtualises the all-important application delivery controller (ADC). IT can then manage it much like the rest of the SDN architecture is managed, with instructions pushed out to whichever applications need it.

Ultimately SDN enables networks to be more flexible, scalable, cost-effective, agile and to improve deployment times for new applications and services. As businesses move to a more cloud-based and virtual environment service providers will need networks that are as described above. That’s why cloud providers and telecos, for example, are top of the queue for SDN deployments.