The Flash Blindness Caused By SDN Hype Keeps Many From Seeing Cisco's Growth Path

Cisco released its 1st quarter financial statement last week, and the numbers weren’t pretty. But this shouldn’t surprise too many, since the company warned the financial community that the revenue growth was going to be below their expectations. Unlike most, I see this as more of an inflection point in an undulation that swings back into a growth mode that comes with a change in strategy than a parabolic upside-down curve. While there are multiple transformations starting to occur in the networking domain, the Cisco Doomsday-ers seem to solely focus on software-defined networking and the creation of cloud infrastructures; they assume the data center of the future will look like Google’s data centers, even though no one truly, outside of Google, knows how it really runs or what the components are.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume every data center (private or XaaS platforms) will be a Google data center full of white-box components and Cisco’s high margin/feature switches will disappear. Does this mean Cisco becomes irrelevant or loses its position as the 800 lb. gorilla in the networking industry? Heck no. What clearly is being missed by most of the world is the incredible transformation starting to materialize outside the data center. And no, it isn’t the presence of mobile devices. That is today’s transformation that changed the consumer. The business will catch up. Tomorrow’s emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) will enable the business to meet its consumers’ desirers, and Cisco sees it already. Cisco could lose every port in the data centers and still be ahead if you look at where the amount of port growth and network revenue will come over the next 10 years.

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Leading Networking Companies Are Helping Improve Your Business’ Customer Experience

Ten years ago, if I had stood up in front of IT professionals and said that their company would allow employees to bring their own devices to work in lieu of corporate-owned devices, I would have been heckled out of the room, but look at where we are today. Well, I am here to say that it won’t stop at personal devices or applications. The user edge of the network (where users and mobile devices connect, not servers or storage) is slowly shifting under the control of business and is an integral part of the ecosystem that shapes a customer’s experience. Already, non-IT employees are doing traditional networking tasks like:

  • Granting wireless network access. Controlling who gets on the network had always been an IT function, until wireless came out. Assistants, business greeters, and other employees can give guests Internet access with all the wireless solutions on the market today.
  • Setting up networks. Today, manufacturing engineers design manufacturing lines and deploy automation equipment with built-in Ethernet/IP capabilities, such as motion sensors, energy monitors, and logic boards. The design and management of that part of the network falls under their domain.
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Networking Is A Hot Mess

A few weeks ago, Cisco announced plans for its “spin-in” investment, Insieme Networks: The newest next-generation data center network called, Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).This new offering includes hardware (the Cisco Nexus 9000 series), new firmware (enhanced version of NX-OS), and a new controller (Application Policing Infrastructure Controller).

Even though Cisco’s ACI launch indicates the magnitude of disruption software-defined networking (SDN) is causing in the industry, and Forrester has provided our quick take on this announcement, I think we have a much bigger story at play here. We are only at the beginning – not middle or end – of sorting out the hot mess that networking is in. And for good reason. The network is the only technology in the business that touches every person, device, and aspect of the business. With that said, networking professionals are trying to support the data center team’s request for a private cloud, employees bringing their own devices and applications to work, and the business circumventing infrastructure and operations for backup-as-a-service or software-as-a-service. Don’t even get me started about the Internet of Things shifting the ownership of the network to non-information technology (IT) personnel or the business opportunity it could bring.

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Data Center Networking: The Awkward Teenage Years

Forrester has just completed a comprehensive analysis of data center networking solutions from Alcatel-Lucent, Arista Networks, Avaya, Brocade Communication Systems, Cisco Systems, Extreme Networks, Hewlett-Packard, and Juniper Networks. Instead of comparing just the vendors’ features and functions and positioning them accordingly, we took an outside-in approach. We stepped into the customer’s shoes and crafted 85 questions based on the needs of a composite company. This composite is representative of the kind of companies we talk to every day. In fact, this customer perspective came from Forrester’s customer inquiry calls, network assessments, and large-scale business surveys.  

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SDN, Cloud, And Automation Need A Controller, System, And Sensor

After Hurricane Sandy forced the closure of the NYSE, the market opened up a week ago Wednesday morning with Riverbed’s stock price plunging 20%, while some financial analysts downgraded the company from “hold” to “underperform.” The financial institutions felt that Riverbed’s WAN optimization market was commoditizing and viewed its acquisition of OpNet for $1 billion as a company looking to enhance its monitoring revenue stream, Cascade (Mazu), and Shark (CACE) products. That might be true, but it’s an insignificant variable in Riverbed’s strategy. What they missed, and what many in the industry have continued to disregard, is the value of monitoring, one of the three components needed for a closed loop system (AKA cloud). Public or private clouds require a system that can automatically interweave an abstracted set of resources as needed and bill per use.

One of the main areas inhibiting the cloud has been the network and its inability to act like a virtual network infrastructure. Forrester defines VNI as:

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You Forgot The Network On Your Journey To The Cloud

Is it me, or does the network industry remind you of Revenge of the Nerds? Networking was cast aside in the cloud revolution, but now companies are learning -- the painful way – what a mistakes that was.  Don’t kid yourself one bit if you think that VMware’s acquisition of Nicirawas mostly about developing heterogeneous hypervisor data centers or reducing networking hardware costs. If you do think that, you’re probably an application developer, hypervisor administrator, or data center architect. You’ve been strutting your newly virtualized self through rows of server racks over the last five year, casually brushing aside the networking administrators. You definitely had some outside support for your views: Google, VMware, and even OpenFlow communities have messaged that networking organizations aren’t cool anymore and need to be circumvented by coding around the network, making it a Layer 2 network or taking over the control plane.

To be fair, though, networking vendors and networking teams helped to create this friction, too, since they built their networks on:

  • 40 years of outdated networking reliability principles. The current state of networking can be in many ways traced back to ARPANET’s principle: a single method to reliably communicate a host of multiple sets of flows, traffic, and workloads. Basically, voice, video, and all applications traverse the same rigid and static set of links that only change when a failure occurs. The package didn’t matter.
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I Know It Works, But It’s Time To Move Off Your Old Rotary Phone, That Is, Homegrown DDI Solution

I was watching “60 Minutes” last night and started chuckling a little bit over the show’s report about piracy. Stealing isn’t funny, but Leslie Stahl trying to explain how criminals do it is. Take for example the dialogue between a former Justice Department official and Stahl.

"And when we get that complete movie, the technology will rearrange all those little pieces into one complete film that is watchable," John Malcolm, a former Justice Department official, explained.

"There's a technology that automatically puts it in the right order?" Stahl asked.

Yes, Virginia. Technology can do that.

Anyway, the report got me thinking about where we were with multitiered applications and virtualization, and how it won’t be too long before applications can be broken up across servers much the way BitTorrent does with files on the Internet. This dissemination of applications in the data center will force the "dial tone" of IT — an always-on, always-available service for connecting to data and applications — to evolve from a clunky and manual process into an automated one. Much of IP, Dynamic Host Communication Protocol(DHCP), Domain Name Services(DNS) management requires too much hand holding; administrators spend time allocating addresses, capturing unused ones, uploading new records, or checking for errors. On average, it takes two days to allocate a set of addresses for the deployment of new servers when it’s 5 minutes of work.

Infrastructure and operations professionals will have to quickly wean their administrators off manual, script-based, or kludgy homegrown tools soon if they’re going to be ready for:

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Extending The Best Practices From The Data Center To The Campus

Last week Vendor X was briefing me on a set of new switches. The projector started rolling with a nice webconference slide deck and a voiceover highlighting customer requirements. It wasn’t long before I felt like Phil Connors (Bill Murray) from the movie Groundhog Day, listening to a radio DJ ask listeners if Punxsutawney Phil was going to see his shadow. This déjà vu moment wasn’t another data center networking briefing but, surprisingly, one about network campus switches.

The past five years have been an era of contraction. Businesses put cost-cutting on the top of their lists and virtualization and consolidation were the panacea for efficiency gains, becoming the shiny ball vendors used to lure customers into buying new solutions. As a result, every networking vendor has been rolling out solutions to address virtual machine (VM) mobility and storage convergence. However, priorities are changing: Revenue growth has just outranked cost-cutting in a Forrester survey of IT executives. I&O teams are altering their focus from where the VMs connect to the other edge where users hook in.

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Détente In The Networking War Signals A New Area Of Choice For I&O

I almost fell out of my chair a week ago Friday when HP posted a link to an overview of the Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem. If it hadn’t been for tweets by Cisco, HP’s 180-degree reversal would have gone unnoticed in a time when mudslinging has become the networking industry’s de facto message, nowhere more apparent than in Cisco’s live video by Rob Lloyd, “Debunking the Myth of the ‘Good Enough’ Network,” and HP’s two-year shock-and-awe campaign against Cisco and its architecture with such posts as:

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Brocade Offers I&O An Opportunity To Control Costs With Their Subscription Program

Brocade isn’t the loudest networking vendor on the block, but more than two weeks ago it released a subscription switching service that should have sent a shockwave through the industry. With Brocade Network Subscription,customers pay for their network infrastructure on a monthly basis.  Sadly, the new service was not some new xfabric or new-fangled technology, the industry was quick to dismiss the news as anything more than another cloud announcement, and so Brocade’s subscription program registered only a murmur. What was missed was that the service helps to solidify I&O as a business unit on the same level as manufacturing, services, energy, and other businesses.

I’ve written extensively about how networking solutions need to support two business realities: 1) Enterprises are embedding themselves in their customers’ lives, and 2) businesses are forming symbiotic relationships with their vendors. In regard to the latter, businesses want to ensure that their vendor is creating products and solutions that are in the best interest of that company, and so there is an expectation that their partners will carry some of the financial risk and burden, ensuring that they will stay committed. On the vendor side and with respect to embedding themselves, the reasoning is twofold. First, Wall Street rewards recurring revenue streams, and this is more likely if the vendor can create something the customers can only get from that particular source. Second, vendors know it costs ten times as much to find new customers and would prefer to have a customer keep coming back to keep their operating costs as low as possible.

As a result, there has been a shift to a subscription service model. Take for example three distinct markets that support this strategy:

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