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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s debatable just how much Cisco’s move into the server market with its launch of the Unified Computing System (UCS) has truly soured the networking giant’s strategic alliances with IBM and Dell, but Brocade has wasted no time in exploiting whatever separation may arise as a result.
Cisco’s UCS strategy banks on the need for tight integration between servers, storage and networks in next-generation data centers, particularly those that use a unified fabric, such as converged Ethernet, to transport all forms of data center traffic on a single medium. Cisco see an opportunity here, believing that many enterprises will want to get all their data center equipment from a single vendor in order to build such a highly-integrated infrastructure.
Of course, as part of its plan to exploit this potential market, Cisco has introduced its own line of servers, putting it into direct competition with long time allies in the data center, such as Dell, HP and IBM.
Whatever rift that forms between Cisco and these server vendors is an opportunity for Cisco’s networking competitors.
In the year since the storage networking company Brocade bought Foundry Networks, it has been leveraging its existing partnerships with leading IT equipment vendors to expand the market for its newly acquired Ethernet switching business. Apparently vendors like IBM and Dell are only too eager to find an alternative networking partner.
Earlier this year IBM announced a major expansion to its OEM relationship with Brocade. Big Blue had been selling IBM-branded storage networking gear from Brocade for several years, but in the new deal it expanded that OEM relationship to include a broad range of former Foundry switches and routers.
And now yesterday Dell announced that it is expanding its own OEM relationship with Brocade, from a storage networking channel to a broad line of Brocade’s Ethernet products.
Dell also announced it would start reselling products from IT automation vendor Scalent Systems. This is all part of an “Efficient Enterprise” offering Dell plans to unload on the market toward the end of 2009. As a result of these new OEM deals, Dell can now offer enterprises servers, storage, networks and IT automation software in one deal, enabling enterprises to buy an integrated data center solution from one vendor. IBM is making a similar move with its OEM agreements and its consulting arm. HP is moving swiftly in this direction, too, but it has the advantage of possessing its own, rapidly growing network equipment division in ProCurve.
ConSentry Networks has gone out of business, according to Network World. ConSentry was a network access control (NAC) vendor who approached the market by selling NAC and other security and control technology embedded in Ethernet LAN switches, I’ve talked to a few of ConSentry’s customers over the years, who have seemed happy with the company’s switches and NAC products, but in the end I suppose there just weren’t enough customers to sustain ConSentry in this economy.
Network World’s Tim Greene cites an interview with Mario Nemirovsky, the founder and chief scientist at ConSentry, who says that the company closed its offices yesterday and that employees were cleaning out their desks.
ConSentry’s website makes no mention of the company’s failure as of this afternoon… but who knows how long the website will remain active.
Just last month ConSentry was making a modest PR push with its concept of “LAN sprawl,” increased network complexity in enterprises that it claimed was driving the need for smarter network switches. While some enterprises are seeing the need for smarter edge switches, many other enterprises are content with dumb edge switches. In the end, I suppose there just wasn’t enough room in the market for another smart switch vendor.
Arista Networks, a networking start-up that sells high-end Ethernet switches for cloud computing environments, continues to hire former Cisco Systems executives. At the top is CEO Jayshree Ullal, who joined the company last year after leaving her role as a senior vice president in charge of Cisco’s $10 billion data center, switching and services business.
On her blog today, Ullal revealed two new hires, both former Cisco executives.
Doug Gourlay has joined the company as vice president of market, just a couple months after leaving his role as Cisco’s vice president of data center marketing.
Anshul Sadana has joined Arista as the company’s vice president of customer and systems engineering. Sadana has been with Arista since 2007, but Ullal is just announcing his appointment as an engineering VP. Before he came to Arista, Sadana headed up Cisco’s development team for the Catalyst 4500 and 4900 product lines and also managed strategic customer relations.