The Network Hub

October 21, 2011  8:28 AM

RIM: Move on from BlackBerry

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Sometimes it pays to move on, no matter how much you have invested in something.

This summer Freakonomics Radio ran an episode titled “The Upside of Quitting,” which poked holes in the old adage “winners never quit and quitters never win.” Many people, the program argued, are unable to recognize that they have committed themselves to an endeavor that is failing. The more “sunk costs” someone has in such an endeavor, the less likely he or she is to give up on it.  No matter how hard it might be to admit it, sometimes it pays to just walk away and try something new.

And here we have Research In Motion (RIM), inventor of the once mighty BlackBerry, so popular a device that users dubbed it the “CrackBerry.” The BlackBerry was THE enterprise mobility device of the pre-iPhone era. A reliable platform for mobile email, contacts and calendars that offered mobility managers centralized control and rock-solid security, the BlackBerry made RIM a tech superpower.

That era of dominance is over. The ever-steepening decline of the BlackBerry, along with recent disasters like RIM’s global service outage, have a lot of people writing RIM obituaries. It’s prompted me to ask myself: Is it time for RIM to walk away from the BlackBerry?

RIM was almost too successful with the BlackBerry brand. The device is a household name while no one aside from IT managers and tech media know who RIM is. Mainstream marketing of any RIM device is pegged to the BlackBerry brand, not RIM.  RIM is a BlackBerry company. What else can it be?

We may find out the answer to that question soon. Android and Apple iOS devices have destroyed the BlackBerry’s share of the consumer mobile device market, and now it’s eating into RIM’s sweet spot: Enterprise mobility. Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) just announced that more than 30% of large enterprises (10,000+ employees) who are current BlackBerry users plan to migrate to a different platform within the next year. In its press release, EMA said:

“This represents a a significant reduction from the platform’s current domination of the large enterprise market space with 52% of mobile device users in that demographic actively using a BlackBerry device as part of their job function.”

RIM’s mobility architecture remains sound (despite the recent outage) but the company has struggled to keep pace with innovation in the device market. When Apple upended the smartphone industry with the iPhone in 2007, RIM responded with the BlackBerry Storm, an ill-fated try at a touchscreen smartphone that failed to catch on.

Then Apple’s iPad blew up the touchscreen tablet market and RIM responded with the PlayBook, which enjoyed strong early sales but got panned by gadget reviewers who said the software wasn’t fully baked. They also questioned RIM’s requirement that PlayBook users tether the tablet to a BlackBerry via Bluetooth in order to access native email and calendar applications. A nice security feature for enterprise IT, but ultimately limiting to users who were already impressed by the elegance of the iPad and some of the better Android tablets. Amid news that retailers were slashing PlayBook prices last month, gadget bloggers jumped on speculation by an investment analyst who suggested RIM had given up on the device, a rumor that RIM vehemently denied.

Then came this month’s service outage which turned 70 million BlackBerrys into bricks for several days. This has been a PR and customer service disaster, which prompted publications to come up with cute headlines like “RIM’s Outage: Nail in Coffin?” and “Is Research In Motion the walking dead?

It’s clear that the BlackBerry is in serious decline. Does it pay for RIM to stick it out and keep investing in it? This week at the BlackBerry DevCon America conference, RIM unveiled BBX, its next-generation device operating system. BBX is a combination of BlackBerry OS and QNX (the PlayBook tablet operating system). In a market where Windows Phone 7, Android and Apple iOS are all winning over users, does it make sense for RIM to evolve the BlackBerry OS like this? We saw Palm try to do this with WebOS. That didn’t go so well. Nokia walked away from Symbian and embraced Windows Phone 7. Should RIM walk away from BlackBerry?

How would you do that…. give up on the brand that defines your company? At this point, is it the BlackBerry user experience that RIM can hang its hat on? Or is it its middleware (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) and its network operating centers (NOCs)? Is RIM’s strength in its devices or its architecture?

Last May RIM announced that it was extending BlackBerry Enterprise Server support to Android and iOS devices. Perhaps that’s where RIM’s future lies. Incorporate non-BlackBerry devices into the architecture that won the hearts and minds of IT managers everywhere. Build value there. Sink R&D into that, not the next-generation BlackBerry. It’s not clear that going in that direction will be enough. The market for a mobility architecture might not be as large as one for a hot, new smartphone, but at least it’s a new direction that might work. It’s just a question of whether RIM wants to let go of device that it has so much invested in. And BlackBerry needn’t give up on devices, either. Instead, it could develop Android or Windows devices that are completely tied into the RIM architecture? Can RIM do that? Does it want to?

Sometimes it pays to quit. It doesn’t have to mean defeat. It can mean that you’ve decided to fight another battle that you think you can win.

October 3, 2011  1:28 PM

Junosphere Lab: Juniper’s cloud-based lab for enterprise customers

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Juniper Networks today introduced a new version of its cloud-based network engineering lab, Junosphere. The new version, Junosphere Lab, gives enterprises and services providers cloud-based access to images of Junos, the firmware that runs on the company’s routers and switches. The service allows network teams to model, design and test networks virtually before deploying a physical one. It will also allow engineers to learn and test the features of a Junos device virtually before buying or installing a physical device.

This is the second Junosphere service offered by Juniper. Last May the company introduced Junosphere Classroom, a service designed for university network engineering classes and Juniper certification training partners. At the time of the Junosphere Classroom release, some networking pros complained that the service wasn’t tailored to the needs of engineers and enterprise networking teams who need to learn the features of Junos and design and test Juniper networks without building a physical Juniper-based network lab.

Junosphere Lab, which features some front-end, user interface changes tailored to enterprise and service provider customers, should address some of the complaints that enterprise engineers had about the original Junosphere offering. Juniper has also partnered with some other vendors to provide virtual instances of network design and testing technologies in the Junosphere cloud. Those partnerships include testing hardware vendor Spirent, network planning and design software vendor WANDL (Wide Area Network Design Laboratory), IP/MPLS planning and traffic engineer software vendor Cariden Technologies and NetFlow and route monitoring and analysis vendor Packet Design.

If an enterprise has an in-house network lab, the network team can connect that lab to Junosphere Lab to expand the scale of the company’s internal lab capabilities and allow them to emulate how their production network might function with Junos versus an incumbent vendor.

The service is priced for an enterprise or service providers budget. Juniper offers access the cloud-based lab at $5 per Junos instance per day. A network engineer could design and test a virtual Juniper network with 20 nodes for $100 a day, for instance.

For the motivated network engineer who is seeking an opportunity for independent self-study, the home network lab might remain the best option. Junosphere is not intended for self-study, according to Judy Beningson, Juniper’s vice president and general manager for Junosphere and related products and services. She said the original Junosphere Classroom remains the best option from Juniper.

September 20, 2011  3:37 PM

Cisco adds Microsoft Hyper-V support to Nexus 1000v

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

As my colleague Beth Pariseau reported last week, Cisco Systems announced today that it is adding support for Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor software to its distributed virtual switch, the Nexus 1000v.

Thus far, when it comes to networking for virtualized infrastructure, much of Cisco’s partnership energy has been devoted to Microsoft’s dominant virtualization competitor VMware, of which Cisco has a small ownership stake. Since the day it was introduced more than two years ago the Nexus 1000v, which replaces the embedded virtual switch within a hypervisor, has been compatible exclusively with VMware’s products.

Cisco is also adding support for Microsoft to its Unified Computing System’s VM-FEX (Virtual Machine Fabric Extender), software that automatically provisions and manages virtual machine networks withing Cisco’s blade server chassis.

These capabilities will become available with the release of Windows 8 Server next year.

It’s nice to see Cisco broaden its virtualization partnerships beyond VMware. It remains to be seen whether it will add support for Citrix XenServer or KVM.

September 14, 2011  10:28 AM

Cisco gets on the offense … but will it backfire?

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

Once upon a time, Cisco was above the fray; too good to respond to competitors that publicly attacked and beyond the need to defend its heavy weight champion status. But those days are over.

This week, Cisco made an attempt at kitschy social media marketing with the release of the Juniper Pizza video on YouTube in which a user orders a pizza from Juniper and then waits 18 months for delivery. The video is a jab at Juniper for heavily marketing its QFabric technology for nearly two years without a delivery date. It also cracks on the company for its lack of switching features.

The video is pretty funny (in the context of tech companies trying to be hip). But it also marks a change of behavior for Cisco, which has always responded with the blanket: “Cisco doesn’t comment on competitors’ campaigns” when asked to respond to jabs from competitors such as Nortel, Juniper and HP. Cisco has also made it policy to avoid commenting on competitive product – instead choosing to promote its own.

So why the change for Cisco? Things may be different now that Cisco has lost some of its hold on the Ethernet switching market and Cisco users have said they will consider competitors with lower prices. It has been said numerous times this year that Cisco is finally in a position where it faces real challenges now that HP, Juniper and even Avaya have data center networking stories.

So will getting scrappy help Cisco stay on top? It could. But it also signal that Cisco is desperately seeking a way to stay relevant and ahead of the competition. You be the judge.

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September 7, 2011  7:27 AM

Can your WLAN keep up with the tablet explosion?

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

Research firm Canalys reports that the enterprise wireless LAN market has grown by 35% due to the influx of wireless-only devices in the workplace. I could report this as good news – and it is for the top five WLAN vendors: Cisco, Meru, Motorola, HP and Aruba. But for network managers the numbers should signal a different message: You’d better shake a leg if you don’t already have a mobility plan in place that entails growing your WLAN to handle the tablet and smart phone storm.

If your mobility plan is centered around halting or even limiting the influx of personal devices on your network, think again. Bring-your-own-device programs are imminent. What’s more, if you believe that the WLAN is a secondary network, built basically to provide Internet access in common spaces, it’s time to rethink your wireless strategy.

The same Canalys report points out that pad shipments will grow to over 113 million in 2015 from 45 million units in 2011, and smart phone shipments will increase to 864 million from 455 million units in the same period. Once these wireless-only devices flood the enterprise, the WLAN will either handle them – or completely melt down.

Building a mobility program goes further than finding the right mobile device management tool. It is just as important to build a secured WLAN with the capacity to handle bandwidth-hungry applications such as video and VoIP. As Jared Griffith, CTO of systems integrator Cinergy explains: “It’s about protecting mission-critical applications. That comes down to good old-fashioned wireless LAN engineering. When I build this network, I have to build it based on the applications that are going to be on the network, not for coverage. If you build a network for coverage and then I add 50 devices to it, it slows the network down, if not crashing it completely.”

What’s your plan?

August 22, 2011  2:32 PM

HP kills TouchPad: Should Cisco get the hint?

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

When HP announced last week it would kill the TouchPad tablet, two clear messages emerged: First, the iPad leaves little room for competition in the tablet world. Second, Cisco had better be a little nervous about making its Cius tablet work.

After all, if HP couldn’t take on Apple, how does Cisco think it will fare in the Cius vs. iPad battle? Price alone is a problem. The Cius went on sale this July for $750 while the iPad 2 starts at $499.

Now that HP has killed the TouchPad and online outlets are selling TouchPad tablets for as low as $99, they are selling like hotcakes. The lesson there? At cheaper prices, any tablet will sell. For more expensive prices, consumers are turning to iPads.

Cisco’s argument, of course, is that the Cius is not a consumer tablet and it is engineered to work as a unified communications and collaboration client in the enterprise. The problem is, in many cases, the iPad can do the same. So why spend more? Cisco also launched its Quad enterprise social networking program that is meant to work on the Cius, and the company is pushing desktop virtualization for the tablet. These days, there are other VDI programs for the iPad and the concept of enterprise social networking is still questionable.

Then there’s the issue of quality. Generally those who have reviewed the iPad, Cius and TouchPad agreed that the iPad is by far the easiest to use. But more frightening for Cisco is the fact that HP’s WebOS and the TouchPad was reported to be better than the Cius. So if the TouchPad couldn’t survive, how will the Cius?

Even analysts who disagree with HP dumping its PC unit, believe HP is cutting its losses by getting out of the tablet business. With Cisco in a position of rethinking its own corporate strategy, one has to wonder if it should make the same decision as HP.

August 9, 2011  10:12 AM

Adtran buys wireless LAN vendor Bluesocket

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

It’s a song you’ve heard before. The days of overlay wireless LANs are coming to an end as enterprises start to integrate the build-out and management of wired and wireless networks. Switch and router vendors have targeted wireless LAN vendors for acquisition in recent years in order to build their own integrated wired and wireless strategies. Juniper Networks was the most recent shopper, buying Trapeze Networks last year.

Now Adtran has gotten into the action, buying wireless LAN vendor Bluesocket. Adtran is a manufacturer of low-cost, NetVanta-branded network infrastructure based in Alabama (it also sells carrier grade infrastructure to service providers) that sells mostly into wiring closets. BlueSocket is a  Massachusetts-based, venture-backed startup founded in 1999.

Last year Bluesocket launched what it calls “virtual wireless LAN” or vWLAN. While most WLAN vendors still rely on a hardware-based centralized controller, Bluesocket has abstracted its controller appliance as software, allowing it to run as a virtual machine on a VMware host server. By freeing the WLAN control plane from a hardware appliance, Bluesocket offers solutions to two wireless networking challenges: scale and cost. A software-based controller is cheaper than a physical appliance, and the scalability of the controller is bounded only by the power of a customer’s virtual infrastructure. As more access points are brought online, customers can devote more computing resources to the virtual controller or add more virtual instances.

Prior to its transition to vWLAN, Blusocket’s largest controller appliance could support up to 200 access points and 4,000 users, according to Chris Koeneman, Bluesocket vice president of sales and marketing. In tests and trials with its virtual controller, the company has scaled up to 1,500 access points and 48,000 users. Koeneman noted that Bluesocket’s virtual controller could scale higher than that. It hasn’t hit a ceiling in tests yet.

Bluesocket’s was named a visionary on Gartner’s last Magic Quadrant for enterprise wireless LAN infrastructure vendors. However, the company is small and it was in the midst of building out a channel partner program. Adtran, on the other hand, is a fairly large (2010 revenue was $606 million), diversified networking vendor with a large sales channel, according to Gary Bolton, Adtran’s vice president of global marketing.

Bolton said Adtran will put its R&D budget into Bluesocket in order to integrate its products with the NetVanta line, particularly around network management and the consistency of network access across wired and wireless connections.

July 26, 2011  11:45 AM

Software is the network, so Juniper snags Microsoft’s Muglia

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

In a further sign of just how important software is becoming to the network, Juniper Networks named former Microsoft executive Bob Muglia as vice president of its newly formed Software Solutions Division.

Juniper has always touted it’s end-to-end JUNOS operating system, but the company has more recently placed heavy focus on providing cloud computing network infrastructure, which is heavily dependent on software for automated provisioning and granular management. Muglia is no stranger to cloud computing software, having headed up infrastructure software and cloud platforms at Microsoft as one of his many roles over his 23 years there. Muglia was booted out of his position there by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this summer.

Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson (also a former Microsoft exec) said the company will now centralize all of its software initiatives in the new division, including software for Juniper’s SRX Series, vGW Series security products, MobileNext core for mobile operators and Junos Pulse mobile device management tools.

In a comment to Network World, Muglia offers up some insight into where Juniper’s software play and its new focus on the application-driven network:

“The emergence of cloud, heterogeneous devices connecting, and applications (executing) in a much more automated state creates an opportunity to bring software into the network and connect to all devices,” he says. “Networks are configured and managed by manual processes, people with mice and keyboards, and separate from the application infrastructure. There is no way to deal with the scale of the amount of configuration changes in the network to ensure the reliability and consistency of the environment. Networks will be applications driven; applications are at the center of intelligence and business value. The infrastructure as a whole is being driven by the applications. Juniper is very well positioned to take this on with QFabric for cloud and a single operating system platform. There’s not a lot of legacy mess to clean up.”

Juniper is certainly making a good case for its cloud strategy with new technology announcements and high-level execs, but shipping actual QFabric product will be an important first step to gaining market share in the world of application-centric cloud networks.

July 21, 2011  4:48 PM

Take my company, please: Brocade, Alcatel-Lucent seeking exits

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

With Dell buying Force10 Networks, Brocade seeking a buyer and Alcatel-Lucent looking to shed its enterprise business, does anyone want to be in the networking industry anymore?

Which narrative would you like to believe?

  1. The networking industry is more competitive than ever with Cisco faltering and companies like Juniper and HP gaining market share.
  2. Cisco owns the market and everyone else is fighting for scraps, hoping to make a graceful exit.

Can they both be true? In recent years we’ve seen companies build up their networking portfolios in an effort to compete head-on with Cisco, only to make a quick exit after those efforts made them into an attractive target for acquisition.

As Henny Youngman might have said: Take my company. Please! Continued »

July 18, 2011  4:48 PM

Cisco confirms layoffs, sells set-top box factory

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

The axe finally fell late this afternoon. The long-rumored layoffs are official at Cisco.

Just days after the conclusion of Cisco Live, the company’s annual customer conference where William Shatner delivered a keynote and Grammy-winning band Train played a private show for attendees, Cisco Systems confirmed today that it will cut 6,500 jobs from its global operation. An early retirement program will account for 2,100 of the lost jobs. The rest are layoffs, apparently. This represents a 9% reduction in Cisco’s full-time workforce.

Cisco noted that “15% of vice president level and above” employees will get the axe in this move, signaling that Cisco trying to streamline its management structure (and perhaps cut some of its higher paid employees by targeting executive suites).

Cisco also removed an additional 5,000 jobs from its payroll by selling an old Scientific Atlanta cable set-top box factory based in Mexico to Foxconn Technology Group. This move amounts to Cisco outsourcing the manufacturing of set-top boxes to a third-party in order to reduce costs.

These moves are part of Cisco’s “Comprehensive Action Plan” for simplifying the company, improving corporate focus on core businesses and reducing annual operating expenses. As part of that plan, CEO John Chambers laid out a goal earlier this year to reduce expenses by $1 billion.  I presume that hiring Shatner and Train to appear at Cisco Live last week was just a drop in that billion-dollar bucket. Still, as you were swaying to the sweet, sweet melody of “Hey Soul Sister” did you think about how that Grammy-worthy performance was probably costing someone a job?

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