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.
There has been a lot of press about IBM’s acquisition of BNT (Blade Network Technologies) focusing on the economics and market share of BNT as a competitor to Cisco and HP’s ProCurve/3Com franchise. But at its heart the acquisition is more about defending and expanding a position in the emerging converged server, networking, and storage infrastructure segment than it is about raw switch port market share. It is also a powerful vindication of the proposition that infrastructure convergence is driving major realignment in the vendor industry.
Starting with HP’s success with its c-Class blade servers and Virtual Connect technology, and escalating with Cisco’s entrance into the server market, IBM continued its investment in its Virtual Fabric and Open Fabric Manager technology, heavily leveraging BNT’s switch platforms. At some point it became clear that BNT was a critical element of IBM’s convergence strategy, with IBM’s plans now heavily dependent on a vendor with whom they had an excellent, but non-exclusive relationship, and one whose acquisition by another player could severely compromise their product plans. Hence the acquisition. Now that it owns BNT, IBM can capitalize on its excellent edge network technology for further development of its converged infrastructure strategy without hesitation about further leveraging BNT’s technology.
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: