What does the coming decade hold in store for networking’s future?
That’s the question recently posed by a contributor on Reddit’s r/networking enterprise networking forum.
User dm18 mentioned shifts in networking that would favor software and IoT. Some of the possible changes proposed might include self-organizing networks without the need for manual configuration, cloud-based systems to automate threat response, patch management and backup. The same user projected widespread interconnection, with outdoor access points powered by built-in batteries and solar panels and interconnections between access control, cameras, climate control, lights, firearms, facial recognition and appliances.
Device density might necessitate more organized networks and eliminate large segments of home networking as telcos and large IT companies like Google step in to provide free, city-wide wireless. Managing huge quantities of data—perhaps transmitted wirelessly—might mean a new emphasis on data compression.
Some users offered up networking humor in response to the question about the future of computer networking. “In 15 years, all network gear (switches, routers, etc.) will have built in Jet Packs so that they won’t need a rack, they will just hover on jets in the designated space,” one user commented. However, others struck a more serious note, suggesting widespread mesh networking and SDN fully fulfilling its promises by 2031.
Networks will automate
“Large-budget networks will automate; small-budget networks won’t,” said user jiannone, looking to networking’s future. “Small-budget networks [will] get by on branded whiteboxes [sic] with licensing and support fees attached to low cost, high-enough throughput boxes that are more ASIC than general CPU architectures,” the user added, suggesting that today’s entertainment infrastructure may shift to IP.
User patchate brought up PCI express switching in the discussion of the future of computer networking, “It doesn’t offer any compatibility with current Ethernet-based technologies, but the underlying technology seems sound to me, at least for short-range interconnects.” The user added, enthusiastically, “If ToR switches could be replaced by PCI express lanes with CPUs having DMA access to any device installed within a rack, that would be so very incredibly awesome.”
Extreme Networks Inc. said it will purchase Zebra Technologies Corp.’s wireless LAN business for $55 million in cash to bolster its existing WLAN portfolio.
The transaction is expected to close later this year pending closing conditions and regulatory approvals.
In a blog post, Extreme CEO Ed Meyercord said Zebra’s WLAN products will be meshed with the company’s ExtremeWireless product line. Among Zebra products are a series of new access point offerings, which include a wall plate and tri-radio APs. Zebra’s wireless intrusion prevention system will also be integrated within Extreme’s products. Zebra is also known for its NSight visibility and analytics tool.
“WLAN is the fastest growing segment in the networking industry,” Meyercord said in a statement.” Our heritage of delivering innovative and pioneering technology is reinforced with today’s announcement, underscoring our commitment to providing customers worldwide with unified visibility and control across their wired and wireless networks.”
Farpoint Group principal analyst Craig Mathias said the deal will provide additional technological heft to Extreme, which will also inherit products Zebra acquired from its 2014 purchase of Motorola Solutions’ enterprise group. “They have a strong customer base and perhaps even some useful products at a bargain price,” he said.
Extreme’s purchase of Zebra’s WLAN operations comes as networking systems vendors continue to snap up wireless vendors. In the last four years, Cisco acquired Meraki, Hewlett Packard Enterprise purchased Aruba Networks, Fortinet bought Meru Networks and most recently, Brocade plunked down $1.2 billion to purchase Ruckus Wireless. Dell-EMC, meantime, struck an agreement with Aerohive Networks earlier this year to consolidate some of its products and to resell others in a bid to extend Dell’s enterprise switching business.
Cisco and IBM said they’d work together to add Big Blue’s Watson artificial intelligence and analytics technology to Cisco’s edge devices.
The alliance reflects Cisco’s strategy to push more intelligence to the edge of the network, eliminating the need to push the data to the cloud, said Mike Flannagan, Cisco’s vice president and general manager, data and analytics group.
“The combination of these technical capabilities provides the flexibility of processing and analyzing data everywhere, at the edge and in the cloud, so it can be leveraged in time and context as the business needs to use it,” he said in a blog posted today.
Cisco has been beefing up its edge and fog analytics capabilities. Late last year, the company acquired ParStream, an IoT analytics company, to allow it to better process and manage the terabytes of data generated by remote sensors and other IoT components.
Adding intelligence to the edge
The addition of Watson will layer cognitive computing on top of Cisco’s existing analytics capabilities, giving Cisco’s edge routers more agility and flexibility in how they process and direct traffic.
MachNation analyst Steve Hilton said the partnership between Cisco and IBM should benefit enterprises that are looking for ways to analyze their IoT deployments. “Often enterprises choose not to buy an IoT solution because deployment and integration of the solution is worse than a migraine headache,” he said.
Cisco said three companies–Bell Canada, the Port of Cartagena in Colombia and SilverHook Powerboats in San Diego–are among early adopters testing the technology.
Brocade said it has struck an agreement to purchase Ruckus Wireless Inc. in a stock and cash deal valued at $1.2 billion.
The transaction, expected to close later this year, will add Ruckus’ line of wireless products to Brocade’s existing enterprise networking portfolio and help let Brocade compete more aggressively with vendors like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Fortinet, both of which acquired wireless suppliers in the past year.
HPE, in its purchase of Aruba Networks; and Fortinet, which bought Meru Networks, are eager to offer customers a complete line of networking and wireless products as more enterprises evaluate the role Wi-Fi and the wireless LAN will play in their organizations. Juniper Networks and Dell, meantime, have partnered with Aerohive Networks to resell its line of wireless gear to complement their networking products. Market leader Cisco and Extreme Networks Inc. also offer a blended line of networking and wireless products.
Brocade, in a statement, said the combined company will rank No. 1 in storage area networking and service provider Wi-Fi, and No. 3 in enterprise Wi-Fi and enterprise edge networking in the United States, European, Middle East and African markets.
Brocade also said the acquisition will also let it pursue new markets such as those emerging around 5G mobile services, Internet of Things and municipal services.
“This strategic combination will position us to expand our addressable market and technology leadership with Ruckus’ fast-growing wireless LAN products, and supports our vision to deliver market-leading new IP solutions that enable the network to become a platform for innovation,” said Lloyd Carney, chief executive officer of Brocade, in a statement.
Selina Lo, president and CEO of Ruckus, will remain with the company and report to Carney.
Thirteen networking and electronics industry suppliers said they would work together to develop a new generation of double-density quad small form-factor pluggable (QSFP) interfaces that would support speeds of up to 400 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE).
The Multi Source Agreement (MSA) Group is spearheading the effort; members include Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, Intel, Juniper Networks and Mellanox Technologies.
The new double-density interface is being engineered to accommodate a projected spike in the demand for bandwidth that’s being fueled by more Internet users, mobile devices and machine-to-machine connections.
A Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast, released last spring, projected that IP traffic will more than triple between 2014 and 2019, reaching 2 zettabytes, or 2 billion terabytes, by 2020.
Higher-speed lanes anchor development efforts
The new interface will build on the existing QSFP form factor, a four-lane electrical interface that allows servers and other networking devices to be connected to switches. Individual QSFP lanes now operate at 10 Gbps or 25 Gbps, enabling throughputs of 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps, respectively.
Double-density interfaces will employ eight lanes that operate at either 25 Gbps or 50 Gbps, quadrupling the aggregate to as much as 400 Gbps. This can enable up to 14.4 Tbps aggregate bandwidth in a single switch slot, MSA said.
The next-gen transceivers are being developed even as vendors like Cisco develop higher capacity ASICs. The firm’s most recent cloud-scale ASICs, for example, can support up to 36 ports of 100 GbE in a single design. As these speeds continue to increase, a higher-capacity QSFP interface is essential.
MSA said the new double-density designs will be backwards compatible to allow customers to increase network speeds without having to redesign the underlying architecture.
Cisco March 22 completed its acquisition of Internet of Things services provider Jasper Technologies Inc. and created an IoT cloud business unit to market services and technologies to carriers and enterprises.
Cisco paid $1.4 billion for Jasper, based in Santa Clara, Calif. The company provides software and tools that allow service providers and enterprises to quickly build IoT businesses.
Cisco said it will build on Jasper’s existing foundation and add new services such as IoT security and support for connectivity options that include enterprise Wi-Fi and low-power wide-area networks.
Jasper works with more than two dozen mobile operator groups—representing more than 100 mobile networks worldwide—to deliver its IoT platform to more than 3,500 enterprise customers.
Companies using its service include Coca-Cola, Microsoft, carriers AT&T and Telefónica, and automakers Tesla Motors, Nissan and General Motors.
New executives named
The creation of the IoT cloud business unit, which Jasper founder CEO Jahangir Mohammed will oversee as general manager, comes as Cisco reshuffled its engineering executives to exploit IoT and the cloud, both of which Cisco sees as massive sales and marketing opportunities.
Among the changes, Kelly Ahuja, who oversaw Cisco’s service provider business, is leaving the company, to be succeeded by Yvette Kanouff. Kanouff will be part of an expanded service provider initiative. Zorawar Biri Singh, meantime, will lead cloud services and platforms; he formerly served as Cisco’s CTO for platforms and solutions. The roles of security senior vice president David Goeckeler and applications and IoT unit senior vice president Rowan Trollope are unchanged.
Cisco Wednesday said it would purchase Israeli-based Leaba Semiconductor to beef up its chip research and development efforts.
Cisco said the acquisition–for $320 million in cash–will lay the groundwork for the next generation of switches, routers and other network components, according to Rob Salvagno, head of Cisco’s M&A and venture investing team.
“By combining Leaba’s semiconductor expertise with the Cisco engineering team, we will accelerate our plans for Cisco’s next generation product portfolio and bring new capabilities to the market faster,” he said in a blog post.
Leaba, which is still operating in stealth mode and has yet to release a product, specializes in developing new technologies and is not a manufacturer. Leaba’s management and executive team–which includes founders Eyal Dagan and CTO Ofer Eini, will report to Ravi Cherukuri, senior vice president of Cisco’s Core Hardware Group.
The Leaba purchase comes one day after Cisco acquired cloud management vendor CliQr Technologies Inc. for $260 million. Last month, Cisco bought Jasper Technologies, an IoT platform provider, for $1.4 billion.
The WAN space is becoming interesting with technologies such as VPLS (Virtual Private LAN Service), SDN (Software Defined Networks) and Hybrid WAN solutions. Over the past decade, there hasn’t been a huge advance in capability for the Enterprise. The tried and tested managed layer 3 MPLS VPN has been the staple for organisations. With QoS (Quality of Service) protecting applications and inherent inbuilt security, the reasons are pretty clear for MPLS VPN success. And, lets be clear – MPLS VPN is here to stay.
However, the market place is evolving with buzz around SDN and Hybrid services. With the buzz, a fair amount of confusion is also occurring regarding how these newer technologies may benefit the average Enterprise business. Software Defined Networking brings enhanced capability and lower cost to managed WAN and wires only services. At a high level, SDN decouples the intelligence from the device to a centralised software management platform. This has the effect of lowering the hardware cost since the device is no longer required to perform functionality other than passing traffic. The actual capability of your managed service increases as the open standard nature of SDN allows developers to create solutions out of software which is a step change from closed vendor specific capability. With so many contributors advancing SDN because of the open nature, the innovation means that SDN will evolve so much quicker than todays productised platform. There are certain WAN providers offering elements of software networking today, allowing their clients to make bandwidth and QoS changes on the fly in real time. Whilst this functionality does demonstrate a use of SDN, the overall promise is much more exciting. As an example, imagine a large Enterprise with a specific networking problem which cannot be resolved using todays capability without a great deal of non-standard support. SDN may mean a developer could be hired to create functionality which is both more supportable and simpler to install. Software will also allow devices to offer functionality which includes more granular capability. In todays networks, devices generally perform a specific role (there are exceptions). SDN will create an environment where the device will be able to perform multiple tasks drawing on the software architected by the developer. A switch with routing and deep packet inspection as an example.
Hybrid networking is fairly simple to understand in concept. A leased line is connected into your service provider network in very much the same way as any typical product today. The shift is the ability for the Enterprise to choose what technology the leased line becomes from Internet based services through to Layer 3 and Layer 2 Ethernet point to point and multipoint. The way in which providers achieve hybrid capability varies but the end result is similar in execution. An example of hybrid allows the circuit to share layer 3 VPN and Internet for remote users. This kind of functionality has been with us for a while but todays hybrid is offering access to more services.
SDN and Hybrid are set to change the world of managed WAN solutions with faster evolution of product features driven by open standards and connectivity which is capable of becoming the service required for any given site. We are not there yet but with vendors such as Cisco adopting SDN into their Nexus switch platform, the next few years should see some new products released onto the market
IT Strategy for WAN Procurement and your organisations specific business strategy
The IT strategy element is perhaps one of the most powerful WAN procurement areas because, when used correctly, IT Managers are well position to align their specific business requirements with the MPLS network or VPLS service provider capability.
Strategy encompasses two elements. The first is your company strategy, competitive edge and business growth. The second is the procurement strategy your business will follow in order align your organisation with future WAN capability.
Over long periods of time, your WAN’s abilities and limitations are directly related to what the organisations is able to do on the network. How your users are able to really interact and make use of the network will affect their overall performance and, as a knock on, the organisations. And this is where the real problems begin. The majority of service provider salesman have a product to sell and will focus on your sites and bandwidth with the result being good commercials and a solution. But perhaps not correctly aligned. In some cases, IT Managers believe the approach of a quotation vs spreadsheet is an acceptable strategy. However, I’d stress the need to think a little more in-depth because connectivity is a major leading competitive edge for your organisation. The wrong decision will impact the business. When outsourcing to an MPLS provider a major point is to consider that your business goals may not align with those of the provider. A procurement strategy must be in place to ensure the best possible outcome. The problem is, IT Managers are often unaware of the key areas and vectors to consider. In the race to the best features and benefits, the typical service provider sales process will often miss key strategic elements of MPLS VPN procurement – it is critical that IT Management and procurement teams are armed with the best possible process to ensure this does not occur.
Your organisations strategy
Strategy means different things to different people. When considering company strategy, IT management will need to think about what makes the organisation competitive in the market place and the capabilities which relate to digital process and workflows. A recent article discussed how a Japanese retailed digitised their processes to allow rapid replenishment of stock. The underlying architecture was based on 70,000 computers which collected data of sold items each and every day. The data is analysed and a robust network delivered stock replenishment orders are completed. In addition, even the weather is considered. A strategic initiative must have an underlying network to deliver the data with maximum uptime. Without a robust architecture which support resiliency, traffic growth and application priority, these projects will ultimately fail.
Start with a diagnosis of your current situation
I’ll start with a statement (probably obvious but worth stating): “It doesn’t make sense to keep doing more of what doesn’t work”.
With MPLS network procurement projects I have been involved in over the years, perhaps one of the main reasons that projects do not succeed is indecision. IT Managers are faced with a tonne of service provider presentations which surround features and benefits which all sound the same. In the absence of tangible value, the decision is then based on price alone. If the savings are not significant, it takes a confident IT Manager to change service provider simply because the impact of another wrong decision is significant.
Further reading: Article on MPLS Providers
I was recently interviewed by a new business startup forum about some of the key aspects of procuring WAN connectivity in the UK. The transcript from that interview has been sent to me for public domain release. I’ve pasted the content here. (Any questions, please let me know)
Readers embarking on a procurement project may be interested in the Techtarget version of our WAN Providers procurement Mindmap.
So, thanks for heading over Robert. Tell us a little about yourself.
Me: I’ve worked with and for major global service providers for well over a decade, mainly in a presales environment. I kept seeing the same typical issues and problems occurring within the WAN procurement process mainly due to commoditisation of WAN services, especially with UK MPLS market place, less with Global MPLS providers.
Interviewer: The UK MPLS providers market place is so competitive, for IT Managers buying WAN services, how to they make the right decision?
Me: Yes, the UK market can get a little crazy. We were asked to work with a client recently where they wanted to engage with around 15 of the top UK WAN providers. In this instance, we declined to help simply because the buying process was clearly based on a commodity decision i.e. just the end cost of the MPLS solution. I’m not saying for one minute that WAN costs do not matter but if price is your sole objective then your project may fail in one way shape or form. Making the right decision requires analysis of four major areas which include technical, process, strategy and commercials. In short, organisations must consider the specifics of their business to ensure they are aligned to the service providers in question. We call this an organisational approach to WAN procurement. I think you’ll agree, that’s a nice title 😉
Interviewer: Are you seeing any major changes in the market place?
Me: Yes and no. Yes, there’s advances in technology and lower cost of bandwidth. However, on the negative side, the major issue with UK and Global WAN providers really surrounds process. The majority of MPLS service providers are very much focussed on building bigger and better networks and allocate heavy front end sales force investment. Don’t get me wrong, investing in the network is great as the overall reach and performance increases and we all benefit. But, the process side of WAN providers is really the thorn in their customers side. As an example, adds, moves and changes are normally difficult to process with protracted delays. The reason is because the workflows are out dated and cumbersome and not at all suited to getting things done quickly and efficiently. We often hear clients talk about simple change requests which have taken up to a month to complete.
Interviewer: Based on your thoughts on process, are clients able to mitigate against this type of problem?
Me: It’s a good question. I think there is an answer. It’s all down to transparency. Within our sales process, the objective is to really gain an understanding of the end to end workflows a service provider goes through to deliver an actual service. Once you have an understanding, company and the service provider are in a position to build a process to help get around and delay caused. We have one client where they have pre populated forms which are saved on a shared cloud storage system. The forms also include video content so that anybody within their enterprise business is able to follow a change request through from end to end. We’ve also project planned the entire process so that our client knows what to expect in terms of timescales and delivery. This might appear to be a little overboard but it works and we are seeing huge improvements working with the largest of service providers.
Interviewer: It must be difficult to get through the marketing of service providers, are their any areas where service providers are not transparent on a regular basis?
Me: Goodness, there’s a fair few areas I could talk about. Let me think about maybe the top three.
One of the biggest areas is coverage. I think it’s safe to say that the major service providers offer a decent level of coverage throughout the UK but there are providers which claim to have 98% coverage but it’s arguable whether or not they are being completely transparent. If we consider both UK and Global MPLS, there’s a few elements. One is the access from your office building through to the local exchange and then to the providers edge network. The access from building to the providers network is called a tail circuit (apologies to those of you who already know this detail). The part you want to concentrate on is the providers edge network – we call this the PE (Provider Edge) which represents the first port of call into the providers MPLS WAN network. To get back to the point. Some UK WAN providers are suggesting they have 98% coverage but they are in fact talking about their ability to buy in wholesale tail circuit access and not the access into their MPLS core network. We’ve seen some providers running only a couple of main Provider Edge nodes in the UK which dramatically decreases their ability to offer you a diverse and resilient solution. I think this is a key area to focus on right now, we keep seeing this issue occur time and time again. When considering global connectivity, it is more about whether or not the international WAN provider has staff on the ground and actual connectivity rather than NNI agreements. NNI’s are network to network interconnects and describe the way in which a service provider will connect your site via a 3rd party network provider.
Another area is resource. With the cut backs in the economy, we’ve witnessed many providers cutting back office staff but increasing their sales force. What often happens is that the client signs up for their WAN and subsequently experiences delivery issues because there’s simply not enough staff within the service provider to keep track of each element. When coupled with systems which are not every slick in the first place, the delivery issues are compounded. It’s therefore important to ask for the particular number of staff in a given area and the amount of projects they look after at any one time.
I wanted to finally mention documentation. We hear service providers talking about a design pack. However, in reality, the documentation is not particularly comprehensive and there are no real defined processes to keep content up to date. And then throughout contract, nobody really understands the exact configuration. I will say that documentation is a real area where issues are caused. As an example, we worked with a client of one of the major global WAN service providers where their configuration had never been right throughout a 3 year WAN contract. Amazing but true. And yet the service provider in question had consistently said there were no issues with configuration and that everything was as it should be. We eventually confirmed this wasn’t the case and have an email from one of their engineers stating “this was the worst case of config he had ever seen”.
Interviewer: You mention documentation, how do you ensure the configs are correct?
Me: It’s difficult sometimes. The majority of service providers try and keep the router content to themselves in a managed environment. I think you have to insist on seeing the main content, without passwords of course, which will provide you with confidence that things are configured as you would like. We believe that documentation content should be clearly laid out and examples provided up front with workflows to keep your particular account up to date. It isn’t just the routers, it is all your references as well and details of any resiliency and diversity.
Interviewer: Do you have any general wise words for companies considering selecting from the top UK MPLS providers market?
Me: Sure. The goal has to be for the WAN to become an enabler to your business. The sad truth is that the WAN is normally a bottleneck. When we speak to clients expanding or introducing a new application, they are always concerned whether the WAN will adapt or cause delays to their project. In our minds, the WAN is another element to you business covering user productivity and providing a better service to your clients. Every business has a different route to market and your choice of service provider must be aligned to the specifics of your business. I’d start by analysing your existing WAN, work out where the strengths and weaknesses exist. So, work out what concerns there are and where the WAN has a detrimental impact to the business. The way we complete this work is to create an outline of each section and ask the team to input into the content which forms a report with a conclusion which describes how the WAN impacts the business. When engaging with new service providers, this initial work positions you well to begin discussion with potential top MPLS providers. If we consider that telecoms services are becoming commoditised but solutions are becoming increasingly complex with delay sensitive applications, IT management really must consider their next WAN carefully. With the data you collect from looking at existing services, your company strategy, applications and processes should be documented to build an agnostic set of requirements. How successful you will be in this endeavour will be dependent on expertise to be honest.
The basic point is this. Any UK WAN or Global WAN provider will not deliver their value at much deeper levels unless you also input into the sales process. Without aligning your business requirements with the service provider, you may end up deciding between a long list of features which can be very difficult and time consuming. The whole ethos behind this approach is to avoid commoditisation of your requirements. If you cannot define the differences between two different products then the only element left is price. Sure, it’s good to obtain great MPLS costs, but not at the expense of service.
Further reading: WAN Outsourcing http://www.thenetworkunion.com/content/wan-outsourcing