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 takeon 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.
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40 years of outdated networking reliability principles.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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Even though CiscoLive was a month ago, I’m getting a lot of inquiry calls from clients asking me what I thought and what does Cisco’s megalaunch mean to them. I feel Cisco’s emerging out of their teenage years of taking things for granted and is getting down to business. But is it too late? I don’t think so, but Cisco has a lot of work ahead of them to win the hearts and minds of infrastructure and operations personnel. On some strong indicators that positive change is in action, I&O managers can hang their hats on Cisco in three areas:
Vision. If there is one attribute that customers can bank on, Cisco always delivers a vision and helps provide a road map for enterprises on what networking professionals should expect to see their networks support. In general, their visions provide a guide light on value beyond the sea of commodity issues: price, features, and speed.
Operations. Cisco’s drive toward consolidating its own operations and dissolving technology silos into services is in alignment with what enterprises need to do and where technology solutions must evolve. Cisco is blending teams into five areas: 1) core routing/switching innovation and optimization; 2) collaboration solutions ; 3) virtualization (including data center and cloud) technologies; 4) video as a primary communication medium and IT task; and 5) architecture — defining and delivering IT architecture for businesses and service providers. I&O managers can expect to see much more integrated and simplified solutions. This should help enterprises reduce the overhead associated with long deployment times and expensive services built on complicated solutions.