Networks Generation

August 6, 2015  1:39 PM

The Network Is Dead – Long Live The Network!

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Business, Cloud Computing, Dimension Data, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Networking, NFV, Routing, SDN, VM, VMware

I remember writing a column for a long since deceased IT publication, where I was discussing the rebirth of the mainframe as a network server, I remember it, not simply for the content, but more specifically the context, and how the sub-editors, in the name of formatting and pure ignorance, change my column title: “The mainframe is dead, long live the mainframe” (quite a witty variation I though!) to simply: “The mainframe is dead”. Not quite the same meaning…

Fortunately, no one edits these blogs (normally!) so hopefully the title here stays as originally typed. The point is, the “mainframe” is being reinvented again, but this time it’s not the mainframe itself that is regenerating itself, but the “network”, so the exact inverse of what happened before.

This thought was reiterated in recent conversations with the excellent Danny Yeowell of Dimension Data (a man who can describe an incredibly complex company structure in simple layman’s terms in the space of 90 seconds!) and in recent work I’ve started with Cirba, a company focusing on “software-defined infrastructure control solutions” AKA managing and optimising virtual storage through software. The point is, whatever a vendor means by SDN and NFV, what is happening is that network functionality is being distributed across the ether, as one giant set of components, manageable from a single, remote entity, whose applications are largely accessed through a browser, regardless of the access device – AKA the rebirth of the mainframe as an organic network, sitting as a software layer, controlling application and data access, wherever the apps and data reside.

As a fundamental consequence of this, storage and networking are becoming ever more integrated, hence the number of acquisitions in recent years of network technology by storage vendors and vice-versa. Looking at Cirba’s solution, while focused on virtualised storage, networking elements such as workload routing, load-balancing and interfacing with NFV elements are all fundamental parts of the product.  Cirba’s analytics automate VM routing decisions based on all the required constraints including workload utilisation, business, technical, software licensing, and complex storage requirements.

A side-effect of the likes of Cirba is that it means that the storage vendors don’t have to do this stuff for themselves; they can simply integrate with a “Cirba” as exemplified by this week’s announcement that Cirba is now integrated with NetApp‘s OnCommand Insight OCI), thus providing the aforementioned optimisation to NetApp customers. So the storage companies increasingly become part of the SDN/NFV movement – there is no escape!

Lest we forget to bring “cloud” into this blog, Cirba also provides cloud infrastructure management teams with visibility into when resource shortfalls might adversely affect associated VMs and where excess resources exist for – in this case – NetApp and other storage infrastructure connected to NetApp OCI.

On a more generic level, all this is being put to the test currently by yours truly, so look out for a report on the topic in the near future.


June 25, 2015  10:49 AM

Shock – WiFi Actually Generating Revenue Streams

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
802.11ac, HP, Networks, revenue, Tallac, Wifi, Wireless

I recently had the “pleasure” of visiting Milton Keynes; the railway station was packed with what were surely tourists – some mistake here? Admittedly, all looking in a hurry to get back to London… does “Stratford-Upon-Avon” translate aurally as “Milton Keynes” in some languages?

Anyway, point being MKC has gone into the world of WiFi as a service, a revenue generating service no less, guaranteed fixed costs, open API to build apps on and instant revenue stream options. And it works great; I went there and downloaded the app (left the T-shirt in the tourist information office though). Suffice to say, this is a long way from WiFi c. 2003, so check out the full study to get a new angle on how wireless technology now makes money, rather than just eating it: 
WiFi that a) works over a large area and b) generates dosh… Was I dreaming perchance?

May 1, 2015  5:01 PM

Who Said Virtualisation Was Supposed To Simplify Things…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Cloud Computing, EMC, Microsoft, Nutanix, OpenStack, VMware, VMware vSphere, Xen

So, we went from hardware to software, and then software to virtual, the idea being not only that everything is more efficient, but also easier to scale and manage. Kind of VLANs part two?


Or more like browsers Mk II? I remember visiting a company in Cambridge c.1837 (it feels that long ago anyway) and seeing Mosaic for the first time. I was impressed; so here is the future interface, lovely and simple, makes sense o’t’Interweb. And then there was Netscape, and Mosaic became Firefox, and there was IE of course, then Chrome, Safari etc etc – and each iteration more complex than the last… So what happened to the simplicity of A browser?


And it’s kind of become the same with virtualisation re: the clutter of Hypervisor’s out there now. For example, Cirba, a company wot I’ve mentioned before in this ‘ere blog, which focuses on capacity planning and improved performance/reduced VM “wastage”, has announced it has added support for Linux’s native KVM-based environments in OpenStack-based private clouds. This, in itself, is not the point. It means that Cirba – and others – are now having to support the likes of KVM, VMware, Citrix Xen, MS Hyper-V, IBM PowerVM, Red Hat Enterprise… where does it end?


I guess what it does mean, with yet another “simplification” turning into “complication” is that there is that much more requirement for products that optimise virtual environments. Andrew Hillier, CTO and co-Founder of Cirba, explained that the company enables organisations to balance infrastructure supply and application demand for greater efficiency and control in single hypervisor, multi-hypervisor, software-defined and hybrid cloud environments – What a lovely, simplistic IT world we now live in…


Not that this is putting companies off the move from physical to virtual. Nutanix, a company that goes from strength to strength, despite having the most baffling ‘job description’ – “a web-scale hyper-converged infrastructure company” – announced its most recent customer, and a very interesting one at that: Bravissimo, a lingerie retailer – high street and online presence – is taking the opportunity to end of life its physical servers and move to Nutanix’s virtual computing platform – basically, integrated compute and storage management, which DOES make sense of course! Not so long ago women were burning their bras, and now they’re being virtualised!


Back to the business angle from a Nutanix perspective… what it means is that what typically takes days and weeks to configure, and scales as well as an obese climber, is reduced to a trivial 30-60 minute exercise, AND, additional functionality and apps such as disaster recovery and replication become exactly that – just add-ons. I saw the same concept, pre-virtualisation, work extremely well with Isilon, and they did just fine being acquired by EMC a few years ago. But even Nutanix has to support several different Hypervisor platforms…


Welcome to the world of IT!

March 23, 2015  4:24 PM

Blasts From The Past

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Internet protocol, NetScout, Network analysis, Network management, Network monitoring, Sniffer

Been doing a few catch-ups with old vendor friends recently; one was Brocade – and more of this next month – which has a REAL SDN/NFV story – and another was NetScout; networking monitoring!!!! Except that network monitoring now goes way beyond SNMP probes and Sniffers.

Speaking with NetScout’s Phil Gray, who came into the company with the acquisition of Psytechnics, which had a voice/video monitoring technology, two things became abundantly clear in terms of where network monitoring/analysis has been going since the days of analysing millions of lines of packet captures:

– A key requirement is getting rid of all the superfluous data automatically, so searches are focused purely on relevant information. Contrast this with the old days of spending hours looking for one hexadecimal string as the proverbial digital needle in an OSI haystack…

2.    – Gauging/measuring by end user experience, not some theoretical mathematical improvement, is network monitoring for 2015. Importantly, the voice and video element of network data monitoring is, of course, more relevant than ever. Another point is that this traffic has to be captured at speeds and feeds from basic Internet level through to 40Gbps and above. This is not trivial stuff, just as identifying and preventing security attacks isn’t. Yet the world of network monitoring doesn’t get the mass media hype that security does but, at the same time, the key word that always comes up in IT conversations is “visibility”. The bottom line is that traffic monitoring and analysis was important in 1988 and it’s even more important – and relevant – here in 2015. Whether it’s data trending, app performance management or simple data feed analysis, if you don’t know what’s actually on the network, how do you manage it?



March 3, 2015  10:32 AM

Shock – HP Acts On Advice – Five Years Too Late…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
3Com, Acquisitions, Aruba, Autonomy, Colubris, Dell, Enterprise, Hewlett-Packard, MOTOROLA, OEM, ProCurve, Symbol

So – HP has just announced it is acquiring Aruba Networks; basically the 2nd-3rd stab at buying a wireless solution after Colubris and effectively inheriting additional WLAN tech with the 3Com acquisition (that NOT being the raison d’etre for that acquisition).

The daft thing here is that, after doing some internal test comparison work for HP towards the end of 2009, the recommendation was – “definitely cheaper and quicker to acquire Aruba than incorporate that capability into your own technology”.
So x 2, of course, they didn’t – and then went and acquired Colubris, on the basis of wanting an Enterprise WLAN solution (AKA Aruba) except Colubris had been designed as a hospitality/hotel etc type solution. The question is, how much would Aruba have cost in 2009 – $3bn? More to the point here, Aruba these days has many OEM deals in place (but not back then) with key HP rivals, most notably Dell boys. So, what happens there? And we thought Putin was going to be at the heart of WW III…
On the plus side, this HAS to be a better acquisition than Autonomy -)
As a footnote – HP (as Procurve’s) original WLAN portfolio was based on licensing a subset of Symbol’s WLAN product range, a company that Motorola acquired a few years ago. So why not simply acquire Symbol before Motorola did, and then add Aruba back in 2009? But then, what do I know about comparing products and best acquisition practise?

February 6, 2015  12:18 PM

Cloud Innovation and Groundhog Day Combined…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
AppDNA, Big Data, Citrix, Cloud Computing, IBM, Netflix, Open source, Software as a Service

Within the general misty definition of “Cloud”, sometimes something pokes through the veil of ether-precipitation that says “I’m new and I make sense”.

And typically, it’s not a variation on that other “Somehow Defines Nothing” Hype-TLA that is SDN, but more akin to the style of Python “And now for something completely different”. In this case it comes from a UK start-up Fedr8. Ok, so the name sounds more like a courier company, but stick with me…

Rather than focusing on Cloud storage or performance, Fedr8 is focusing on making sure your existing applications will actually work in that environment in the first place. Kind of akin to avoiding the scenario where you buy a large American car before you measure the size of your garage. The product itself, Argentum, provides compatibility analysis and optimisation for in-house applications, prior to cloud delivery.  It provides organisations with a suite of tools that can assess, analyse and optimise existing applications, enabling organisations to design successful cloud projects and migrate applications without even thinking about the pain, system, effort and time in attempting to do it manually. Or simply guessing…

To date Argentum has been piloted on Open Source applications developed by companies including Netflix, Twitter and IBM, so no big names there then! How, then, does it work? In layman’s terms it analyses the source code of any application, in any programming language, and then provides actionable intelligence to help a company move those existing apps into the cloud – hence “federate” the services! So, what’s in a name? Lots it seems -) At a slightly more technical level, code is uploaded to the Argentum platform where it undergoes a complex analysis and is split into objectified tokens. These tokens populate a meta database against which queries are run. From this, out pops a visualisation of the application and actionable business intelligence to enable successful cloud adoption.

Sounds great in theory, and looks a must for Broadband-Testing to put through its paces; not least because there is a Groundhog Day moment here. Yes, the product is innovative, BUT there is an eerie resemblance to that of a former client, AppDNA, whose product analysed applications for migration between Microsoft OSs and browser versions. So, same concept, different application (in every sense) and, indeed, why not? Especially since AppDNA ultimately got acquired by Citrix for more than a few quid. Now that’s a precedent I suspect the Fedr8 board will be quite sweet on…

November 20, 2014  11:17 AM

It’s CA Jim But Not As We Know IT

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
apps, Barcelona, CA, Gartner, IOS, Network management, Software, twitter

I was at a Gartner event in Barcelona last week, where Computer Associates were playing host.

Not only was there the amusement of the excellent and straight-talking EMEA CTO Bjarne Rasmussen referencing Forrester several times at a Gartner event (especially amusing for my Forrester analyst mate Nikki Babatola when I told her) but what followed was even better.
Beamed in on live video from the simultaneous CA World event in Vegas – AND IT WORKED! – we had CA CEO Mike Gregoire do a keynote on the new CA – and how right he is, this is an unrecognisable company from a few years back (and in a GOOD way) – and then the maddest panel debate ever. Hosted by Wired’s Jason Tanz, it featured Mike himself, Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) and Jennifer “Legs” Hyman (co-founder of Rent The Runway clothes rental online).
How could this work? Well, Biz and Jennifer both looked like they’d been on something in the Green Room beforehand, but… they were all brilliant. Mike was comfortable in this company in a way that no senior exec from “old” CA would ever have been; Biz was the master of (laid back) common sense and Jennifer represented the new face of IT – i.e. not tech talk but pure business.
So what was a mainframe software company is now an Apps company…
The CA strap-line throughout was that your business is software and it’s hard to disagree with this, short of someone making pottery from their own home and selling direct from the doorstep!
With a few of the established IT and networking giants flounder currently (you know who you are guys!) CA is a good example of how you can reinvent yourself for the new IT economy; business not tech – about time too! Even if it does put a few of us out of business…

November 10, 2014  3:47 PM

Networking Innovation?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
ADC, apps, jetNEXUS, L-B, LAN, NAS, Network management, Networking, router, Storage, WAN, Wi-Fi

Been researching an article for CW’s very own Cliff Saran while, by chance, also speaking with a number of IT investors – the research being on networking innovations; oh and, by another chance, also judging an awards event, networking category and also visited a Cambridge Wireless innovations awards event…

That’s a lot of potential networking innovations to witness; except, networking ain’t what it used to be – much of the new development is WRT to tangential elements to networking, rather than at the heart of it all. Does this mean that networking is essentially done and dusted? That it all just… works?
Obviously a lot of the focus is on “the cloud” (everyone looks up to the sky for some reason when you say that) and end-to-end optimisation, especially at the NAS/storage end, which is fine, but not much else to report on that’s genuinely new and genuinely “networking”.
That said, a few things are being properly reinvented:
1. Network Management – to cope with cloudy, hybrid networks.
2. User Interfaces – finally getting less “IT and more “human being” – examples I’ve tested recently here include jetNEXUS Load-Balancing/ADC – once a mega-techie product area and now simplified to such an extent that we’re going to ask my mum to configure the next test (you think I’m kidding?) – and also WRT Sunrise Software’s Sostenuto ITSM platform – now truly “admin person friendly” and with whacko new features (at least by “Helpdesk” software standards) such as gamification (both reports are on the broadband-testing, website so check ’em out).
3. WiFi – well, not so much re-invented but now with real scalability – this stuff really does work, even if hotels still try to prove the complete opposite…
And, of course, we have the latest set of “router” replacement technologies, but now we’re talking optical tech, not exactly branch-office stuff…
And, finally, why ARE investors currently so obsessed with “Apps”? I mean, for every one that makes zillions…

September 1, 2014  11:38 AM

Shopping In A WiFi Cloud…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
application, Application Programming Interface, cloud, HP, openflow, Sdm, Tallac, Wi-Fi, Wifi

“Cloud” and “WLAN” or “WiFi” are not, to date, IT terms that are typically seen in tandem, but Tallac Systems, a new venture for a number of ex HP er, yes – let’s say it – veterans (I reckon I can out-run you guys if necessary) are looking to create one from t’other.

Some of the basic target scenarios here – for example, a multi-tenant building scenario, or a shopping mall equivalent – are not new; we tested this kind of application with the likes of Trapeze Networks  a decade or so ago – but the way in which Tallac is approaching this kind of solution, IS different. Have a look at the Tallac architecture, for example, to get an idea if where the boys are coming from, combining elements of SDN (OpenFlow) with Tallac’s own virtualisation model and open APIs to boot:

Of course, every start-up has to have a new variant on a marketing spin; in this case it’s SDM (not N, this was not a typo) or Software Defined Mobility. Get beyond the marketing BLX and the basics make sense:
  • Manage entire Wi-Fi network from a single dashboard
  • Control multi-tenant Wi-Fi networks, applications and devices
  • Application-based virtual networks
  • Cost effective 3rd party hardware
  • OpenFlow enabled API
So, the next step for me is to get some hands-on experience and the “seeing is believing” proof point. Watch this space…

August 8, 2014  2:19 PM

Next Gen Network Management

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
CA, Cloud Computing, HP, IBM, IBM Tivoli, Moogsoft, Network management, Virtualisation
IT and networking reinvents itself partially or wholly every few years, and here we are again now – distributed, virtualised, cloud (private and public) based, hybrid networks… So where does this leave traditional Network Management (NetMan) applications?

Every few years, the topic of “next generation” NetMan crops up once more and here we are again right now, thanks to the the distributed, somewhat cloudy and virtualised nature of contemporary network deployments. I mean, just how do you manage a network “entity” if you don’t know where it is?

I recently finished testing with a genuinely fascinating start-up called Moogsoft (the report is available from the website) who also featured in an article I did recently for Computer Weekly on managing external, virtualised networks (it’s on the CW website somewhere!). The work really did bring home to me just HOW different it is attempting to manage a global network in 2014, compared to even 10 years ago. What seems now way back in ’99 with the emergence of network optimisation products and security I tried to set up the NGNMF – Next Generation Network Management Forum – with a view to getting the network management specialists – the BMCs, CAs, HPs IBM Tivoli’s etc of this world – to outline how they would advance their software solutions to cope with the – then – new generation of networks being deployed.
15 years on and that task is almost infinitesimally more challenging. I was speaking last week with Dan Holmes, director of product management at CA, about this very topic. Dan has historically been through many of the phases of network management development as myself, in his case starting with the – then Cabletron’s Spectrum manager, one of the first products to try and bring AI into the equation for resolving networking problems. Dan acknowledged that the change in networking infrrastructure is requiring a change of approach by all the major NetMan vendors and pointed to a lack of standards as being just one of many issues to resolve. He described the fundamental difference now as being, whereas NetMan was previously focused from the inside looking out, now it has to refocus from the outside looking in; in other words, the starting point is the bigger picture and you have to drill down to individual services, threads, user conversations, transactions… That’s a hell of a lot of “data” to manage – application monitoring and similar tools can do certain tasks, but they are not the complete answer – checkout the Moogsoft report to see how radical a solution is seemingly required in order to be that latter-day solution. 
And if that means the major NetMan vendors are all playing catch-up currently, it’ll be interesting to see how fast each or all of them can adapt to the new generation of networks being rapidly built out there in the ether at the moment…

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