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  • 40 years of outdated networking reliability principles.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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Prediction: HP Cuts Loose Their Networking Hardware And Transforms Into A True Networking Alternative

HP’s startling announcement, two weeks ago, to discontinue Touchpad and all webOS-based products, purchase Autonomy Corporation, and split off its PC divisions, caught the market off-guard. Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Leo Apotheker feels the company could be the next Polaroid in the consumer products and mobile device war — a business that requires companies to be “much faster than a conglomerate can move in most circumstances.” The reality is this new strategic direction should not have surprised anyone who has read Leo’s résumé; it was the board’s intention to hire a strategic thinker who could evolve the company into a software and services organization by leveraging HP high-margin assets coupled with a few acquisitions. HP has one of the strongest orchestration software portfolios in the industry, which encapsulates everything from enhancing user experience through its APM solution all the way down to controlling Layer 2 through the Intelligent Management Center (IMC). With strategy toward creating and servicing cloud infrastructures, HP should examine what it has and figure out if its current networking portfolio differentiates the company, changes the way networking is done, and aligns HP’s networking division to HP’s strategic goals.

Three things I&O teams should think about when it comes to HP:

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A Reflection Of What I Learned At Cisco Live: Growing Up Isn't Easy

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.
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SMARTnet Is Dead! Long Live The Lifetime Warranty!

Just kidding, Cisco’s SMARTnet isn’t dead, but I&O managers have a new warranty for networking hardware: free hardware replacement, bug fixes, and tech support. Basically, enterprises can expect to get a basic break-and-fix solution free from most vendors on edge and distribution switches or switch/routers. Hallelujah!

Everyone owes a big thank-you to HP. Over the past 10 years, while holding less than 5% of the market, HP’s ProCurve line forced its competitors’ hands, reset the industry’s warranty choices, and revolutionized what customers should expect from their networking vendors. By leveraging the lifetime warranty to separate themselves from the other seven dwarfs and Gigantor while trying to offset “you get what you pay for,” HP went to market offering next business day replacement on the hardware, phone and email support, along with software bug fixes and updates. They wanted customers to understand that only companies that delivered quality products could sustain this type of service model. HP extended the warranty out to some of the 3Com/H3C products -- after the acquisition -- too.

Within the past two years, most vendors have followed suit and offered their version of a lifetime warranty:

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What Do Spark Plugs And WLAN Solutions Have In Common?

It’s not the most daring and cutting-edge prediction to say 2011 will be Wi-Fi’s second coming. However, you might be caught off guard when I tell you to not worry about a vendor’s WLAN architecture. Your business needs will flush out the right one. Despite the initial hype seven years ago that Wi-Fi was going to be the new edge, it’s been the second choice for most users to connect with at work — but that will change. A tidal wave of wireless devices will be crashing through the enterprise front door very soon. Just look at the carriers scrambling to build out their infrastructure — there’s no shortage of stories about AT&T and their build-out of Wi-Fi in metropolitan areas. And users have fused their work and personal phones and are looking to seek coverage from carrier data plans.

The time to start was yesterday, and you have a ton of work to do. Your edge will be servicing:

  • Employees with corporate netbooks and their own smartphones and/or tablets who watch training videos on YouTube from companies like VMware.
  • Devices like torque tools, temperature sensors in exothermic chambers, ambient light sensors, and a myriad other devices.
  • Contractors with their own laptops, netbooks, tablets, and/or smartphones who need access to specific company applications.
  • Guests like account executives entering customer information into their CRM programs.
  • All the things being developed at venture capital backed incubators.
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Juniper’s QFabric: The Dark Horse In The Datacenter Fabric Race?

It’s been a few years since I was a disciple and evangelized for HP ProCurve’s Adaptive EDGE Architecture(AEA). Plain and simple, before the 3Com acquisition, it was HP ProCurve’s networking vision: the architecture philosophy created by John McHugh(once HP ProCurve’s VP/GM, currently the CMO of Brocade), Brice Clark (HP ProCurve Director of Strategy), and Paul Congdon (CTO of HP Networking) during a late-night brainstorming session. The trio conceived that network intelligence was going to move from the traditional enterprise core to the edge and be controlled by centralized policies. Policies based on company strategy and values would come from a policy manager and would be connected by high speed and resilient interconnect much like a carrier backbone (see Figure 1). As soon as users connected to the network, the edge would control them and deliver a customized set of advanced applications and services based on user identity, device, operating system, business needs, location, time, and business policies. This architecture would allow Infrastructure and Operation professionals to create an automated and dynamic platform to address the agility needed by businesses to remain relevant and competitive.

As the HP white paper introducing the EDGE said, “Ultimately, the ProCurve EDGE Architecture will enable highly available meshed networks, a grid of functionally uniform switching devices, to scale out to virtually unlimited dimensions and performance thanks to the distributed decision making of control to the edge.” Sadly, after John McHugh’s departure, HP buried the strategy in lieu of their converged infrastracture slogan: Change.

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