Software-defined networking has been one of the most hyped technologies of the 2010s to date. According to IT research firm Gartner, SDN hit the peak of its public popularity in 2013 and has since gone under the radar, although development of enterprise-grade solutions continues and it may transform SDN into a long-term fixture of business wide area networks.
"The ultimate direction of SDN depends heavily on one vendor: Cisco."
The ultimate direction of SDN depends heavily on one vendor: Cisco. Although Cisco has not been at the forefront of major early SDN projects such as OpenFlow, its products such as Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) represent major alternatives to SDN that IT professionals may need to become familiar within the years ahead.
SDN versus ACI
SDN refers to the separation of the control and forwarding planes on a network, such that a centralized CPU can make decisions about how to direct traffic without having to rely on old-fashioned firmware across the network's infrastructure. Since many of the technologies that make SDN possible - e.g., the OpenFlow protocol and the OpenStack operating system - are open source, Cisco was once viewed as the vendor that had the most to lose if SDN were to take off, due to its enormous position in the market.
However, the rollout of ACI has kept it ahead of the curve. ACI is sort of a proprietary spin on SDN. In its Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking report from 2017, Gartner rated Cisco as one of only two "Leaders" in the space, along with Arista Networks. Features such as service chaining and policy-based orchestration have made ACI a major player in data center modernization initiatives.
Be prepared for SDN with Cisco certifications
Cisco offers numerous certifications that can help you learn the ins and outs of setting up, maintaining and troubleshooting a Cisco network. These credentials, which include the CCENT, CCNA and CCNP credentials, are useful to beginners as well as experts. Learn more by visiting our Cisco certifications page for additional info.