It Isn’t Over Till The Customer Sings (at ONUG)

Wow. Certain networking vendors have started to declare they are winners, while others say software defined network (SDN) is over. All I have to say (in my best George Takei voice) is, “Oh, my!” I’m lucky enough to spend most of my day interacting with many end users to know that those statements clearly show how out of touch some vendors are with customers. Let me make this clear: In today’s environment, only customers can make those statements, and this is probably why some vendors don’t get it. It is a foreign concept and vendors are in the denial stage of loss, losing power to customers.

This realization hit me like a ton of bricks at Open Networking User Group conference in New York City. This hasn’t happened any time in the past within the networking world. Customers are dictating requirements. This is not the same concept as the market deciding the best technology after it gets developed, such as CDP vs LLDP, EIGRP vs OSPF, etc. In this new world, customers are defining network characteristics before the technology exists or has been developed by the vendor community. Don’t believe me? Read through ONUG’s white paper on vendor development guidelines regarding investment directions and proof of concepts (POCs) of SDN and network function virtualization (NFV) for the user community.  

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White Box Mania Distracts Everyone And Wreaks Havoc On Investments

I’m getting inundated with briefing requests from vendors either coming out with their own white box offerings or somehow supporting the white box market. While white box network solutions provide great value for some industries, more than likely, they are not for your infrastructure but for specific industries such as web scale or high-frequency trading companies. The network world is fragmenting into industry-specific solutions, and the era of Swiss Army knife network hardware is over (see figure below). Mainstream vendors are freaking out because that was their bread and butter. Now they have to figure out who they want to serve. Some uncertain vendors are placing chips on all the squares of the network roulette table; this strategy is a losing proposition for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong. White boxes/bare-metal solutions have their place, but be cautious of the irrational exuberance over this new trend. Resources are finite. The vendors chasing tail lights will at some point have to give up and lock down on a particular path. Activist firm Elliott Management has rattled the cages of some high tech firms and has basically said, “You are killing investors’ return by not simplifying and focusing.” Personally, this might not mean much if you aren’t an investor. However, as an infrastructure and operations professional, you should be concerned about solutions existing a year or two down the road from shotgun-approach vendors; worse yet, you get the effects of a mile-wide, inch-deep investment, which means the solution lags on getting the investments needed to help your company succeed today. 

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WLAN Vendors Differentiate By Business Value And Market Focus, Not Technology

Forrester brought the wireless Forrester Wave™ back from the grave after an end-of-life announcement of it in 2007. Too many wireless innovations and changes in the vendor landscape have emerged not to dig it up and examine today’s solutions. The Forrester Wave: Wireless Local Area Network Solutions evaluated 10 wireless systems — Aerohive Solution, Aruba Mobility-Defined Networks, Cisco Aironet, Cisco Meraki, Fortinet Secure Wireless LAN, HP FlexNetwork WLAN, Meru Networks WLAN, Motorola Solutions WLAN,Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi products, and Xirrus Wireless— using 300 criteria asked in 58 questions . Besides the photo finish at the top, the wireless Forrester Wave reinforced what we were seeing and the reasons why the Forrester Wave needed to be resurrected:

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Watch Out! Networking Professionals Can Be Fired For Buying The Market Leader

The recent business articles about customers screaming for change, such as Bloomberg’s recently published article about Goldman Sachs’ CIO threatening Cisco, conjures up images of Dee Snider busting through the wall and screaming, “OH, WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE! WE'VE GOT THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE, AND THERE AIN'T NO WAY WE'LL LOSE IT! THIS IS OUR LIFE.” Connecting customers, employees, and business resources has become a life-or-death element for businesses (see The Enterprise Network Enables Business Innovation).

Am I being overly dramatic? I would like you to name a technology that the entire market openly voiced their displeasure about and forced a market leader to come up with a new strategy like Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure. Sure, the market has gone through transitions like the movement from fat access points to controller-based access points and the implementation of server virtualization, but the difference between those transitions and the current one is that these technologies were created before customers demanded them.

Now we have customers defining what they want before the technology exists or even creating their solutions, such as:

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Run, Don’t Walk, If The First Thing You Hear From Your Network Vendor Is BYOD, TCO, Or SDN

If a network vendor representative starts off with any of these three phrases — software-defined networking (SDN),bring-your-own-device (BYOD), or lower total cost of ownership (TCO) — I would ask them to leave and come back when they have done their homework on your business. Why? Because clearly they don’t know what your business does and aren’t prepared to help you improve revenue, add new clients, or delight current customers in The Age Of The Customer. The company is treating your team and infrastructure as just a number.

These phrases are all vendor-led marketing initiatives, not customer pain points. Fundamentally, networks should be more than packets delivering PowerPoint slides, connecting users to SAP, or enabling a voice call. Networks touch every part of the business and have significant impact on changing the way business can be done. And the business is expecting to get some business value of out the platform. Therefore you shouldn’t be ok getting a generic networking pitch. You are the customer —make them work for your dollars by making them demonstrate how they can help your business. If you work for a:

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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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