The Network Hub


October 9, 2009  8:38 PM

Industry analysts: A problem of integrity

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Gartner VP and distinguished analyst Tom Bittman wrote a passionate rant on his blog yesterday defending his and his coworkers’ integrity as analysts.

In my 14+ years at Gartner, I have never, ever allowed a vendor to influence my opinion with anything but facts. Period. They have certainly tried to influence me with non-facts. I can say this definitively – it has never worked.

Tom’s rant has sparked an interesting debate among current and former analysts, bloggers and vendors in his blog’s comments section. It’s worth reading.

There has been plenty chatter in the blogosphere and elsewhere about whether analysts are offering any value to enterprise clients. Many analyst firms, such as Gartner, count both IT vendors and end user enterprises as customers. It’s hard to serve both masters while maintaining an appearance of integrity. This is probably why Gartner has an ombudsman... the only ombudsman I know of in the analyst industry.

Gartner’s use of an ombudsman doesn’t protect it from attacks on its integrity. James Watters, for instance, suggested recently that IBM’s favorable position Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Web Hosting and Hosted Cloud System Infrastructure Services was due to IBM being a very important paying client of Gartner.  Trapeze Networks came to me after I wrote about Gartner’s last wireless LAN Magic Quadrant and suggested that Gartner had unfairly placed Meru Networks ahead of Trapeze because Meru’s current VP of marketing is a former Gartner analyst and one of the authors of the MQ was very briefly an employee of Meru.

It’s hard to prove your integrity. For some people, there just isn’t enough proof in the world to erase any doubts.  Journalists face the same challenge. In my newspaper days people would occasionally accuse me of being a mouthpiece for politicians. I knew I was doing my best to write fair and balanced stories, but the accusations still stung.

Gartner’s use of an ombudsman is significant, I think, although the office would have more impact if the ombudsman’s blog were updated more than once a month. An ombudsman is the voice of the client (or in a the traditional journalism sense, the reader). Clients will have more faith in a an analyst’s advice if the firm has someone on staff who tackles each and every significant attack on its integrity head-on, in full view of the public.

Gartner and other analyst firms should also disclose the nature of their paid relationships with the vendors that they evaluate for enterprise clients. This way, clients can understand the full context of the advice they are receiving.  Some firms do this. Others don’t.

If you could talk to the CEOs of the leading analyst firms out there, what advice would you give them to help them establish that they are giving unbiased and independent advice to enterprises?

October 8, 2009  6:36 PM

Oracle isn’t after Brocade, but what about Extreme?

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison dismissed the Wall Street Journal’s speculation that his company (among others) was interested in buying Brocade while speaking at the comapny’s annual shareholders meeting yesterday, according to MarketWatch’s John Letzing, IBM, HP and Juniper remain potential suitors according to the Internet rumor mill.

Meanwhile, Extreme Networks’ stock price took a relative beating on Tuesday after it lowered its earnings for its first fiscal quarter (which ended Sept. 27). Wall Street analysts were expecting Extreme to make $80.4 million but Extreme says it will be closer to $66 million. Extreme cited supply chain problems, which should scare customers. Other networking vendors have admitted to supply chain problems in the wireless LAN market, but I haven’t heard anything about wired networking supply chain problems before. Extreme said it has lost some deals and had other delayed by the problem. Are Extreme’s suppliers giving preference to larger networking vendors?

Extreme’s market capitalization is at $231 million as I write this. It would come a lot cheaper than Brocade and would offer someone like HP ProCurve a nice complementary line of data center switches.


October 6, 2009  5:26 PM

HP or Juniper to buy Brocade?

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

A year ago Brocade was a buyer. Now its a seller and HP or Juniper might be buying.

Citing unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Brocade Communications has put itself up for sale. This news comes less than a year after Brocade closed on its own acquisition of Foundry Networks, a $3-billion deal which gave the Fiber Channel storage networking market leader a broad portfolio of high-performance Ethernet switches and a variety of other data center networking products. Brocade has since inked some high profile OEM agreements with companies like IBM, creating a promising sales channel for the Ethernet products.

The Journal reported that HP and Oracle were likely suitors for Brocade. Oracle seems like a strange fit, but HP makes sense, given that Brocade’s former Foundry switches would fill a gap in HP’s ProCurve switching portfolio. ProCurve lacks a track record in high density Ethernet switches, something Foundry specialized in. The deal would also boost its storage business and give HP a much broader overall suite of data center products.

Now Journal blogger Michael Corkery speculates that Juniper might be a buyer for Brocade, too. Known more for its service provider routing business, Juniper recently rolled out its own line of enterprise Ethernet switches, but it has $2 billion in cash. A Brocade acquisition would give Juniper a much more established switching business, plus a lucrative storage networking business with deep and successful partnerships with IBM and EMC.  But Juniper’s stated switching strategy is centered around the concept of having one operating system, JUNOS, across all of its networking products. Buying Brocade would force a complete change in direction.


October 1, 2009  9:30 PM

Cisco’s Tandberg deal is about interoperability: Uh, really?

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

Cisco can go one of two ways with its $3 billion Tandberg acquisition: It can get over old habits and work toward interoperability in videoconferencing and telepresence — or not.

 

The overarching goal of the Tandberg acquisition was for Cisco to buy its way into the mass video conferencing market with Tandberg’s lower-end, high-definition technology to add to its own high-end telepresence offering. But Cisco CEO John Chambers also noted that Tandberg is “good at” working with other companies, and that Cisco would ultimately offer multi-vendor interoperability.

 

Cisco doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to interoperability. If video systems are built on the H.323 protocol or Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) they can interoperate. Both Tandberg and rival Polycom use H.323 and have worked together on standardization bodies to establish industry-wide interoperability. Cisco, on the other hand, has been blatant about its disregard for interoperability in videoconferencing (along with lots of other technologies).

 

Last May when I interviewed Cisco about telepresence interoperability, a senior official explained the company’s stance:

 

“Standardization and innovation sometimes work against each other,” David Hsieh, senior director of marketing for Cisco, said. “Interoperability is the lowest common denominator.”

 

Hsieh added, however, that Cisco could change that view with pressure from customers. Maybe the pressure has arrived. Or maybe Cisco just figures that bringing video to the masses won’t happen by locking customers into one brand that can only be used within their own company or with other participating customers.

 

Still there is no promise that Cisco will suddenly begin working toward standardization and interoperability. First, most of its networking equipment remains proprietary. Cisco’s other collaboration applications are not easily interoperable with those from other vendors – often creating islands of collaboration rather than a mass system. Plus, it will take time for Cisco to integrate Tandberg’s technology with its own. When that happens, standardization could get lost in the shuffle.

 

Ultimately, the future of the videoconferencing market – which has had numerous false starts and sudden lows – depends on what Cisco chooses to do here.


September 29, 2009  2:41 PM

Cisco launches blade switch just weeks after HP ProCurve

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Two weeks ago HP ProCurve launched a new line of blade switches, the 6120XG and the 6120G/XG, which plug into the same blade enclosures as HP’s BladeSystem servers. These switches were meant to replace the switches which HP OEMs from a third party, most likely Blade Network Technologies’ BNT switches.

Now Cisco has launched the Nexus 4000, a blade switch which also fits inside a blade server enclosure. Like other switches in the Nexus family, the Nexus 4000 runs the NX-OS operating system, which Cisco designed for converging LANs and storage-area networks (SANs). The switch is also designed to support converged, data center Ethernet, the pre-standard technology that will allow data centers to run server and storage traffic across the same wire.

Although the Nexus 4000 is part of Cisco’s Nexus switch family, Cisco is only selling it through OEM channels, specifically blade server vendors. These are the same server vendors that Cisco now competes against with its Unified Computing System, a line of data center technologies which includes blade servers.  It remains to be seen how enthusiastic vendors like IBM and Dell will be about selling a switch from a server competitor with their blade server systems.  I doubt HP will be interested, given that it just launched a similar product.


September 25, 2009  5:23 PM

Hey network engineers, you’re not doing enough! Try facilities management too

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

It is ironic that right as Gartner released research showing engineers are managing 20% to 30% more network components than they were last year, networking pros are about to receive even more on their plates by way of facilities management … of all things.

This week the IP for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance announced a certification and compliance program to ensure vendors release IP-based smart objects that interoperate. You may be thinking, what the h&%ll do I care about smart objects? What is a smart object?

Believe me, you should care. Smart objects are sensors and actuators that run in a range of applications from smart grid management to building automation. The IPSO alliance is hoping to accelerate the use of IP in these devices. That means that enterprise lighting systems, for example, can be networked into the LAN. Among the many use scenarios, facilities management systems will communicate to network managers when a system is wasting power without actual use. It is feasible that these systems could save enterprises as much money as greening data centers.

On a larger scale, IP-based energy and building management means that utilities will implement smart meters in enterprises and homes that will warn home base of outages and waste. These smart meters will be part of larger IP networks laid over utility grids. In addition to enterprise and consumer savings, regional governments will spend less, enabling them to direct money to other crucial projects.

Cisco has already moved in on the action with its EnergyWise software initiative. EnergyWise is embedded into Catalyst switches and used to control not only power within the network, but also on PCs and building control systems. So it’s no surprise that Cisco is a member of the IPSO Alliance, along with Ericsson, SAP, Sun Microsystems and Google.

All of this innovation may be exciting, but for network engineers it means the need to gain more skills (possibly even certifications), more responsibility and assuming an even greater role in every enterprise. As this happens, they will have to demand the manpower and support necessary to expand in this new direction.


September 22, 2009  3:11 PM

Green trends for data center networking: A free resourceful webcast

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter

Just because it’s the last day of summer (summer ends at 5:18 pm today) doesn’t mean you won’t see less green. Although the leaves in New England are already turning colors, more and more businesses are turning toward environmentally-friendly solutions to save money as well as the planet: Publishers are printing books online — saving printing costs and money; vendors are holding virtual conferences — saving travel costs and air quality; and IT organizations are consolidating data centers — saving energy costs and resources.

Of these green trends, I see Cisco Press has covered all three by having Safari Books Online host a free webcast on greening data centers. This Thursday, September 24 at 9:00 a.m. PDT / 12:00 p.m. EDT, you can join Douglas Alger, author of the recently released book from Cisco Press Grow a Greener Data Center, for a discussion on how to build and operate energy-efficient, ecologically sensitive IT and facilities infrastructure. He’ll cover topics like virtualization, equipment consolidation, greening physical construction, power, cooling, and servers — and much more.

The first 10 to sign up for the webcast will receive a signed copy of Grow a Greener Data Center: A guide to building and operating energy-efficient, ecologically sensitive IT and Facilities infrastructure. If you miss out on that opportunity, all subscribed attendees can download, print, or view the content online for 45 days.

If you can’t make any part of the one-hour webcast or view the book’s content, you can still learn more about making eco-friendly choices for your IT environment in our green networking special report — or by reading this quick tip on greening data center networks through device consolidation. Any move toward making technology greener is a step in the right direction. My only hope is that these trends become standard.


September 17, 2009  7:38 PM

Avaya as a networking vendor

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Avaya has tried to be a networking vendor in the past (Anyone remember Cajun switches? I think you can still buy one in Thailand). The market has not been friendly to it.

And yet, with this week’s news that Avaya won the bidding war for Nortel’s enterprise division, the company is now on its way to being the owner of a significant data networking market share.

According to Gartner’s quick-take on the Avaya-Nortel deal, Avaya has committed to continue Nortel’s data portfolio as its own. I haven’t seen that corroborated anywhere else. In July I asked Todd Abbot, Avaya’s senior vice president of global field ops, about Avaya’s plans for Nortel’s switches and routers. He said the company wasn’t ready to discuss it.

Chances are that Avaya won’t be ready to discuss the future of the data portfolio for awhile, at least until the deal is closed. Then perhaps Avaya will make a go of it as a networking vendor. It’s not out of the question, given how many former Cisco executives the company has on board. But it’s also entirely possible that Avaya will eventually flip the data business to another vendor.

As Garter’s Bob Hafner et al noted in the firm’s quick-take, Avaya has a poor history with data products and Nortel’s product line needs some updating and rationalization (Although Nortel would disagree with that assessment). Gartner worries that Avaya “may not be able to spare resources for this task while it focuses on integrating and supporting the combined [Nortel-Avaya] voice portfolios.”

So Avaya’s Nortel agenda looks like this:

  • Retain an extremely rattled voice customer base.
  • Make amends with a very unhappy channel community.
  • Integrate two huge voice and unified communications product portfolios.
  • Figure out what to do with the data networking business.

Gartner is right. The first three bullets in this list look like tall tasks. The last one might sit in the to-do file on CEO Kevin Kennedy’s desk for awhile.


September 11, 2009  3:40 PM

Parts shortage forces wireless LAN vendor to delay product announcement

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

On Wednesday I reported that many wireless LAN vendors are having supply chain problems. The semiconductor manufacturers who supply key components for wireless LAN access points are struggling to deliver enough parts to WLAN vendors. The result is long backlogs of orders at some companies.

Next week a major wireless LAN vendor was planning to announce a new 802.11n access point. That announcement has now been delayed due to a parts shortage.

As is often the case in business reporting, I agreed to embargo, or hold back, the details of this product until the vendor officially makes the announcement. Because of this, I am ethically bound not to say who the vendor is or mention any details about the product. So for now, I can just say that a leading wireless LAN vendor has pushed back the announcement of a new 802.11n access point by a week. In their words, this delay is directly due to a parts shortage. The company has a policy that it won’t announce a product until it has enough component parts available to ship the  product in high volume within 45 days of an announcement. Apparently the vendor needs another week in order to get enough parts on hand to meet this policy.

If you are planning a major wireless LAN investment before the end of this year, i suggest you ask your shortlist vendors about their supply chain. It sounds like this problem is affecting quite a few vendors. Many of them have managed to deliver most of their customers’ orders, but their inventories are dwindling.  The ratification of 802.11n by the IEEE will only exacerbate this problem because conservative companies who are reluctant to adopt draft standard technology will now be moving forward with 802.11n projects.


September 3, 2009  2:27 PM

Virtualization University: Will the new green data center degree prepare you?

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

It was only a matter of time before you could get a degree in virtualization. IBM has created a two-year associates degree in green data center management.

The program, developed in conjunction with Metropolitan Community College of Omaha, teaches skills in virtualization and server consolidation, energy efficiency, security and compliance and business issues that arise in the data center. It’s unclear whether those issues include IT in-fighting between networking, systems and storage teams.

What the program does promise is problem-solving in a real-world setting — if your real world is built on IBM hardware and software. The school’s data center lab includes IBM Power Systems servers running AIX, IBM I and Linux.

Until now, there haven’t been viable options for vendor-neutral virtualization certifications, but companies like VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and Red Hat all offer specialization courses. There are generalized data center certifications and degrees, though those are typically on the graduate level.

But at a time when the data center is diversifying in vendor offerings and equipment, it’s questionable whether students should invest their money and time in such a vendor-focused program. That said Cisco made its equipment the holy grail of networking in large part by partnering with community colleges to build network certification programs — and it’s clear CCNAs and CCIEs the world over have gotten their foot in the door and then learned diverse technologies on their feet.

What makes this degree attractive despite its vendor affiliation is its focus on virtualization as a central part of the data center. Along with the rise in virtualization has come a plethora of management issues and in-fighting about who controls virtual machines – networking, systems or storage. Forrester analyst Rob Whiteley has suggested the answer is the emergence of a new “virtualization administrator.” If that’s the case, this degree – and others like it that will soon pop up – may be the first step toward that role.

Metropolitan will offer the IBM green data center course (virtually of course) to students at other participating universities.


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