Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Information, Documentation, And Expertise!

With all the articles written about IPv4 addresses running out, Forrester’s phone lines are lit up like a Christmas tree. Clients are asking what they should do, who they should engage, and when they should start embracing IPv6. Like the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” Forrester is only one component; therefore, I started to compile a list of vendors and tactical documentation links that would help customers transition to IPv6. As I combed through multiple sites, the knowledge and documentation chasm between vendors became apparent. If the vendor doesn’t understand your business goals or have the knowledge to solve your business issues, are they a good partner? Are acquisition and warranty costs the only or largest considerations to making a change to a new vendor? I would say no.

Support documentation and availability to knowledge is especially critical in networking design, deployment, maintenance, and upgrades. Some pundits have relegated networking to a commodity play, but networking is more than plumbing. It’s the fabric that supports a dynamic business connecting users to services that are relevant to the moment, are aggregated at the point of use, and originate from multiple locations. The complexity has evolved from designing in a few links to tens of hundreds of relationships (security, acceleration, prioritization, etc.) along the flow of apps and data through a network. Virtualization, convergence, consolidation, and the evolving data center networks are prime examples of today’s network complexity. In response to this complexity, architects and practitioners turn to books, training materials, blogs, and repositories so that they can:

  • Set up an infrastructure more quickly or with a minimal number of issues, since there is a design guide or blueprint.
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Networks Are About The Users, Not The Apps!

Virtualization and cloud talk just woke the sleeping giant, networking. For too long, we were so isolated in our L2-L4 world and soundly sleeping as VMs were created and a distant cousin was born, vSwitches. Sure, we can do a little of this and little of that in this virtual world, but the reality is everything is very manually driven and a one-off process. For example, vendors talk about moving policies from one port to another when a VM moves, but they don’t discuss policies moving around automatically on links from edge switches to the distribution switches. Even management tools are scrambling to solve issues within the data center. In this game of catch, I’m hearing people banter the word “app” around. Server personnel to networking administrators are trying to relate to an app. Network management tools, traffic sensors, switches, wan optimization are being developed to measure, monitor, or report on the performance of apps in some form or another.

Why is “app” the common language? Why are networks relating to “apps”? With everything coming down the pike, we are designing for yesterday instead of tomorrow. Infrastructure and operations professionals will have deal with:

  • Web 2.0tools. Traditional apps can alienate users when language and customs aren’t designed into the enterprise apps, yet no one app can deal with sheer magnitude of languages. Web 2.0 technologies — such as social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video-sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mashups, and folksonomies — connect people with each other globally to collaborate and share information, but in a way that is easily customized and localized. For example, mashups allow apps to be easily created in any language and data sourced from a variety of locations.
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What Is The Cost Of Being Blind, Insecure, And Unmanaged?

With the increased presence of business principles within the IT arena, I get a lot of inquiries from  Infrastructure & Operations Professionals who are trying to figure out how to justify their investment in a particular product or solution in the security, monitoring, and management areas. Since most marketing personnel view this either as a waste of resources in a futile quest of achievement or too intimidating to even begin to tackle, IT vendors have not provided their customers more than marketing words:  lower TCO, more efficient, higher value, more secure, or more reliable. It’s a bummer since the request is a valid concern for any IT organization. Consider that other industries -- nuclear power plants, medical delivery systems, or air traffic control -- with complex products and services look at risk and reward all the time to justify their investments. They all use some form of probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) tools to figure out technological, financial, and programmatic risk by combining it with disaster costs: revenue losses, productivity losses, compliance and/or reporting penalties, penalties and loss of discounts, impact to customers and strategic partners, and impact to cash flow.

PRA teams use fault tree analysis(FTA) for top-down assessment and failure mode and effect analysis(FMEA) for bottom-up. 

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IPv6: Drive Innovation With Rewards, Not Fear

I’m a sucker for good, biting humor, and in the spirit of Stephen Colbert’s Medals of Fear that he gave to a few distinguished souls (the press, Mark Zuckerberg, Anderson Cooper) at the rally in Washington D.C., I would like to hand a medal to the U.S. State Department for its 1999 publication of a country-by-country set of "Y2K" warnings — “End of Days” scenarios and solutions — for Americans doing business in 194 nations. I would give another medal to IPv6, the most drawn-out killer technology to date — and one that has had the longest run at trying to scare everyone about the end of IPv4. At Forrester, we are starting to see the adoption freighter slowly turning via the number of inquiries rolling in; governments accelerating their adoption with new mandates; vendors including IPv6 in their solutions; and the Number Resource Organization escalating its announcements about the depletion of IPv4 addresses (only 5% left!). To add to the drama, vendors are in the process of creating IPv4 address countdown clocks to generate buzz and differentiation. These scare tactics haven’t worked because technology pundits haven’t spoken about IPv6 in business terms. There is enormous business value in IPv6; those who embrace it will be the new leaders in their space.

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Juniper: Reading The Writing On The Wall

Like the polar ice caps, the traditional edge of the network — supporting desktops, printers, APs, VoIP phones — is eroding and giving way to a virtual edge. With the thawing of IT spending, growth and availability of physical edge ports isn’t keeping up with devices connecting to the network; 802.11 and cellular will be the future of most connections for smartphones, notebooks, tablets, HVAC controls, point of sale, etc.

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Part 2: Three FUD Statements I&O Managers Use Not To Implement Standards-Based Networking

Carrying on from my thoughts in Part 1:  It’s time to start deploying purely standards-based infrastructure outside the data center; data center protocols are just starting to be created for a converged and virtualized world.  With the amount of tested and deployed standards protocols, there’s no excuse for networks to be locked in to a certain vendor with proprietary protocols when standards-based network solutions provide access to compelling volume economics, flexibility to adapt a much wider array of solutions, and relief from hiring specialized talent to run a science project.  Although many organizations understand that standards-based networking provides them with the flexibility to choose from the best available solutions at a lower cost of ownership, they still feel trapped.  Listed below are three top shackles and the keys to open them up:

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Part 1: Standards And Proprietary Technology: A Time And Place For Both

I was listening to a briefing the other day and got swept up in a Western melodrama, set against the backdrop of Calamity Jane’s saloon in Deadwood Gulch, South Dakota, revolving around three major characters: helpless heroine (the customer); valiant hero (vendor A, riding a standards-based white horse); and the scoundrel villain (a competitor, riding the proprietary black stallion) (insert boo and hiss). Vendor A tries to evoke sympathy at his plight of not offering the latest features because he doesn’t have the same powers as the villain and has chosen to follow the morally correct path, which is filled with prolonged and undeserved suffering supporting standards-based functions. What poppycock! There is no such thing as good and evil in networking. If the vendors were reversed in positions, vendor A would be doing the same thing as its competitors. Every vendor has some type of special sauce to differentiate themselves. Anyway, it’s business, plain and simple; networking fundamentally needs proprietary and standards-based features. However, there’s a time and place for both.  

With that in mind, I want to let you know that I’m a big proponent of standards-based networking. The use of open standards improves the choices that help you reduce risk, implement durable solutions, obtain flexibility, and benefit from quality. Ninety-plus percent of networking should be leveraging standard protocols, but to get to that point features need to go through three stages:

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Rating: Hold - Stormy Waters Continue To Toss The Minnow: HP Networking

The other day I was just reminiscing with a friend who works at HP about all the good times I had there with my ProCurve family.  When I left for a once in lifetime opportunity, I had so much hope for HP’s networking division.  Like many of my inquiries from global customers looking for a Cisco alternative, I’m concerned about the division and its long-term viability.  I’m not worried if HP will continue to exist without Mark Hurd.  Companies are more than a single leader.  There is plenty of research, books, and online debates about the effect of a single person: Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, John Chambers, etc.  The issue at hand is the existence of product lines within enormous companies, like networking within HP.  One of my mentors always said, “If you look at networking over the last twenty years, no major IT company or voice vendor has been able to pull off being a serious networking vendor if networking wasn’t its first priority.”  Fundamentally networking is one of the few technologies where a vendor has to be all in.  The networking graveyard is full of headstones:  Nortel fell off the face of earth, IBM sold off its assets, and Dell hobbles along.

Ah, you might say, what about HP?  That brings me to my three observations that every IT manager should consider when including HP in their network architecture:

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