2014 has been a great year for SDN, at least in terms of popularity... If you look on Google you find over 80 million pointers to SDN and in Google Trends it clearly show the uptake in 2013 and consolidation in 2014 and in the Gartner HypeCurve SDN is at the top (along with Multivendor WLAN Controller Protocols). This means that it will be some time, possibly a full year, before we can see real market up-taking and a few observers are indicating 2016 as the year when real market demand will start.
SDN is being investigated by several players, including Network Operators, but in terms of market it is more likely to be adopted at enterprise level and in data centres.
The big telecom Operators and the telco manufacturers have a general interest but the deployment will take several years and it is unlikely to be initiated without a strong reason (that cannot be found in the flexibility provided by SDN because they have the processes in place to manage their networks and SDN deployment would require changing those processes, a challenging endeavour).
What is more likely to happen in the Telco environment, at least this is my bet, is that SDN will be a fall out of a different driver, that is managing a variety of network in different ownership domains, something that will happen with 5G. We are talking about the end of this decade and the “sale” will be driven by 5G manufacturers having an understanding of the legacy systems of Telco Operators.
Does it mean that Telcos can stay at the window and just look the other players engaging in SDN deployment at the enterprise and data centre level?. Well, they may, but I do not thinks it would be a wise move. Telcos Operators have a significant stake in the enterprise domain and they should be at the forefront, or at least in the mainstream, in their enterprise offering. A good move, and a good opportunity indeed, would be to embrace the Open Innovation band wagon in this area, opening up their testing labs and network emulators to let third parties experiment enterprise SDN offering and to work with them for bundling services to the enterprise.
You may want to take some time and read this concise paper on the status of SDN.