The Network Hub

March 17, 2009  6:37 PM

California dreaming: Cisco’s rivals have their say about Unified Computing

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Yesterday was Cisco’s big day. The networking behemoth ended months of speculation about its move into the server market by unveiling its Unified Computing System, codenamed “California.” As I sat through yesterday’s video conference helmed by Cisco CEO John Chambers, I kept waiting for the nitty-gritty details of the technology the company is introducing. Instead, I heard more than 90 minutes of chatter among Cisco executives and leaders from partners like VMware, EMC, BMC, Accenture and Microsoft about how well all these companies were working together to execute Cisco’s vision. I was a little disappointed. The conference was much more conceptual than technical, and I think that’s the way Cisco wanted the day to go. Cisco PR folks blitzed editors and analysts with fact sheets and press releases during and after the event, and there is a lot of meat in there. It just takes a while to read through it all.

Cisco’s rivals, particularly its rivals in the networking market, are eager to offer their opinions on what Cisco is trying to do. Michael Morisy will take a deeper look into that with a story on tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s some of the feedback I’ve received from them over the last 24 hours.


First up is Mike Banic, Juniper’s vice president of product marketing for Ethernet platforms. He notes that Cisco’s event was more conceptual than technical because Cisco may have been forced to unveil this project a little early.

There was a rumor that this event was happening a lot earlier than [Cisco] had planned because of the article in the Wall Street Journal on California. It looks like that reporter had a lot of good facts. So they moved this up because they didn’t expect anybody to get these details and they needed to slowly unfurl the story. They’d rather be telling this story when they have more details to share. i don’t think they’re really there. If they wante dto show us how they coulud simplify management [of the data center], they would demonstrate that. Otherwise, it’s just words.

Banic offered a contrast between Cisco’s approach and Juniper’s approach to simplifying management of data centers.

[Cisco is] not suggesting anything new here. Simplified management of compute resources and networks is something vendors in this market have been doing for awhile, like HP and IBM and newer entrants like VMware. For us, it’s very different from our strategy. We’ve focused on being network pure-play. The network is our strength. We’re not going to wander into knew worlds like servers. We’re focusing on connections. [Cisco] is going to perpetuate the multi-layer network model, whereas the Juniper vision is to have the whole data center network look like one switch. It will be multiple switches, but it will all look like one switch [in the management console]. We already have something like that with our virtual chassis switch. We can build a single logical switch for the data center. That’s what Project Stratus is.

Banic also noted that Cisco’s entry into the server market will further drive a wedge between it and traditional server manufacturers like IBM and HP, which Cisco has partnered with in the past. “Those vendors are in a better position and have more expertise and history with servers than we as a networking vendor. And we’re in a better position to work with those partners, like IBM.”


Brocade has been positioning itself to become a player in the data center networking market, particularly through its acquisition of Foundry Networks.  Elizabeth Walther, Brocade’s senior public relations manager, offered me the following observations:

  • Cisco’s approach to Unified Computing is not revolutionary. Many companies with extensive experience in solving complex data center issues are already working on solutions
  • Cisco’s approach is likely to be very capital intensive up front, which will be a major obstacle in light of today’s global economy.
  • The challenge at hand — the evolution of the data center to a dynamic, fully virtualized state — is extremely complex and should leverage open architectures and industry standards.

Her second point, that it might be expensive, is a valid point. But I think companies that are looking to transform their data centers in this way know that they will have to lay down money to do it. Also, Cisco isn’t expecting broad adoption of this technology until four or five years out. By then (we hope) the economy should be rebounding.

Brocade is arguing that, despite Cisco’s talk about using open industry standards in Unified Computing, the initiative will still involve too much proprietary technology. Brocade offered this official statement, which expands on that point:

A dynamic and virtualized data center holds the promise of many compelling benefits for end-users including increased server utilization, decrease in power footprint and more efficient operations in general. However, achieving this goal is a complex challenge that can be best tackled by a broad ecosystem of industry partners and not based on a proprietary, singular architecture of one company.

In contrast, Brocade is already helping customers address these challenges by integrating our networking solutions with a range of mature computing, management and storage technologies from some of the strongest companies in the world. These partnerships are leveraging open interfaces/standards, co-developed technology, and products that are available today, which will lower costs and maximize return on investment for customers.

Blade Network Technologies

Blade CEO Vikram Mehta echoed Brocade’s position on Cisco’s ideas of industry standards will lock customers into a “proprietary world” while locking out vendors like HP and IBM that are “trusted open systems suppliers.” He said the standards in Unified Computing are tantamount too “standards with a C” as in Cisco.

Methta trashed Cisco’s announcement in his own blog with 10 reasons why Cisco’s Unified Computing won’t fly. Here are three of them.

  • Unified Computing means standards with a “C.” According to Cisco, converged data and storage networking requires Cisco’s Data Center Ethernet (DCE), thus eliminating freedom of choice with a sole-source Cisco-only server and network. This puts at risk integration and interoperability with vast existing installations. The rest of the industry is working on an open approached called Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) using IEEE’s Data Center Bridging (DCB) standards.
  • It’s more about packaging than true innovation. For example, Cisco’s fabric extenders carry the same cost structure as switches, as they utilize similar switching silicon, physical interface components, and management processors. When compared to traditional switches – sharing management via “stacking” – the fabric extenders are another example of packaging, not innovation. The more costly data center infrastructure components – CPUs, RAM, and networking silicon – remain unchanged, except Cisco’s prices are higher and – surprise, surprise – more Cisco gear is needed to control them.
  • Follow the money – into Cisco’s bank account. Cisco’s “California” server approach requires Cisco’s Nexus 5000 switches that start at $17K for a bare-bones Layer 2 switch and significant premiums for adding Layer 3 and FCoE functionality, so the total cost of ownership will be similar to the cost of living in California.

I should note that Cisco said Unfied Computing does not require investment in Nexus switches. Cisco executives told me the uplinks from a Unfied Computing System can plug into any vendors switches. Of course, customers will get the best performance out of the system by plugging it into Nexus switches, which offer the “unified fabric” technology that Cisco is promoting with Unified Computing.

As I receive more input from Cisco rivals, I will post updates here.

March 12, 2009  8:08 PM

As Cisco invades server market, Sun prepares networking counterstrike

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Cisco Systems will stage an online press conference on Monday with CEO John Chambers. He will be unveiling Cisco’s vision of “Unified Computing,” which CTO Padmasree Warrior describes in her blog as an “architectural transformation” in the data center where “the compute and storage platform is architecturally ‘unified’ with the network and the virtualization platform.” It is this concept that has been generating all the rumors about Cisco entering the server market with a product codenamed “California.”

So it appears these rumors will be confirmed in some fashion on Monday, and the world will take notice.  However, the heart of Cisco’s business remains the network. That is where it dominates and that is where it reaps enormous profits. While Cisco reaches into new markets and competes with old partners like HP, another company is quietly positioning itself for a counterstrike.

Blogger Scott Lowe points out that Sun Microsystems is hinting at plans to compete directly with Cisco in the networking market. He notes that a new blog entry by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz pretty much confirms the speculation.

Lowe points to this money quote from Schwartz’s blog (The emphasis is Lowe’s):

As I’ve said before, general purpose microprocessors and operating systems are now fast enough to eliminate the need for special purpose devices. That means you can build a router out of a server – notice you cannot build a server out of a router, try as hard as you like. The same applies to storage devices.

To demonstrate this point, we now build our entire line of storage systems from general purpose server parts, including Solaris and ZFS, our open source file system. This allows us to innovate in software, where others have to build custom silicon or add cost. We are planning a similar line of networking platforms, based around the silicon and software you can already find in our portfolio.

Lowe notes that the comment about building a server out of a router is probably a shot at Cisco’s California. But Schwartz is also saying that the proprietary hardware and operating systems  that Cisco and other network vendors build are  unnecessary.

Note this statement:

At Sun, open source isn’t for servers. Open source is for datacenters.

He’s arguing that high performance networking devices can be developed with an open source operating system and high-performance, commoditized hardware. Open source networking start-ups like Vyatta have been making this argument for quite awhile.

Schwartz writes:

Leveraging inexpensive, general purpose components is one big advantage for us, but there are others – using a general purpose OS allows us to easily embrace specialized components (from flash memory to GPU’s), or adapt to new storage or networking protocols entirely in software. The underlying OS and server are so fast, these extensions and enhancements are simple feature updates, and ones we can leverage across servers, and storage and networking.

As everyone speculates breathlessly about what Cisco has planned with California, it’s easy to forget that companies like Sun and HP won’t be sitting still.

March 11, 2009  6:24 PM

SolarWinds getting ready to go public, someday

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

I’ve always thought that SolarWinds was a great target for acquisition.  When I ask network administrators what they use to manage and monitor their infrastructure, one of the most common responses I get is SolarWinds’ flagship product, Orion.  There are plenty of good products on the market, but SolarWinds definitely comes up in conversations more than anyone else.

I think part of SolarWinds’ popularity can be traced to its distribution model. Rank and file IT pros can download affordable products directly from the company’s website. Many of the network managers I talk to also say Orion is just easy to use and it does what they need it to do.

While I’ve been waiting for a network equipment vendor to come along an snap up the company, SolarWinds has been making some moves of its own. It recently filed an S-1 form with the SEC, an early step towards an initial public offering (IPO) .

According to its filing, SolarWinds has experienced strong growth over the last few years – revenue of $38.2 million in 2006, $61.7 million in 2007 and $93.1 million in 2008. The company has more than 80,000 customers, including 400 of the Fortune 500 companies.

This isn’t exactly the best time to go pubilc, but based on the financials it provided to the SEC, the company is performing well. It will be interesting to see how the market treats the IPO.

UPDATE: Got an email from SolarWinds PR folks. This S-1 filing is an update of a filing the company made with the SEC last year. So I jumped that gun in saying the company is moving towards an IPO. Looks like it’s simply keeping things in place for an IPO for if and when I decides to move forward… which would probably be when this bear market ends. That could be a long time from now.

March 5, 2009  8:14 PM

Networking jobs market is lukewarm while overall job market is lousy

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Hey, do you notice a trend here?

Every quarter staffing firm Robert Half Technology surveys 1,400 CIOs about their hiring plans. As you can see, the percentage of CIOs who are increasing staff has been relatively steady for nearly two years. In the third quarter of 2007, 17 % of CIOs said they were adding new staff. Then it held steady at between 13% and 14% for about a year. Then it started to dip a little in 2008 before plunging to 8% in the first quarter of 2009.

Meanwhile, the percentage of CIOs who are cutting jobs is creeping upward.  For quite awhile just 2% of CIOs were cutting jobs. That’s a remarkably low ratio, and given the way things are right now those days seem so far away. Now job-cutting CIOs are at 6% and no doubt still climbing.

The silver lining is that 83% of CIOs will maintain the status quo on IT jobs. Those with good jobs can take heart, but job seekers must be feeling pretty discouraged. (For some tips on how to prepare for a networking job interview, see Michael Morisy’s story).

At least networking jobs remain relatively hot in these dismal days. When asked which kinds of jobs are experiencing the most growth in their IT organizations, 15% of CIOs identified networking jobs, tied with help desk/technical support as the biggest IT growth area.

Also, network-centric skills continue to be resume gold. When asked which skills were most in demand, 65% of CIOs identified network administration, 47% identified telecommunications support and 46% tagged wireless network management.

March 2, 2009  9:36 PM

HP’s $1 billion data center deal with Aviva includes Cisco

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Although Cisco and HP no longer have a cozy data center relationship, HP’s new $1 billion data center outsourcing deal with European insurance giant Aviva includes Cisco products.

The ten-year deal was struck between Aviva and EDS, HP’s IT outsourcing business. According to HP’s announcement of the deal, EDS will take over and modernize Aviva’s two UK-based data centers. Both HP and Cisco “will provide select tools, technologies and resources to EDS in support of Aviva,” the announcement stated.

As I’ve mentioned before, HP and Cisco useed to have a friendly relationship when it came to selling into enterprise data centers. HP sales reps often received incentives to sell Cisco networking gear along with HP servers, storage and software. But the data center landscape has changed in recent years. Cisco is increasingly moving in on HP’s territory with its Data Center 3.0 campaign and its rumored entry into the blade server market. Meanwhile, HP has renewed its focus on its networking division, ProCurve. It has launched its own purpose-built data center switches. Clearly these two companies will be battling for data center domination rather than cooperating with each other.

Although HP is trying to compete head-to-head with Cisco in data center networking, deals like Aviva are still going to happen. It’s unclear how much HP’s EDS division will push ProCurve gear over Cisco gear if it affects the EDS’s ability to win a big data center outsourcing deal like this. ProCurve is certainly making a name for itself, but it still lacks the high-performance 10 gigabit Ethernet switching pedigree that other companies such as Cisco, Foundry, Extreme and Force10 have.

February 26, 2009  9:38 PM

NetApp takes viral YouTube marketing to another level.

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

The intersection between geek culture and hip hop has a long, vibrant history and has brought us many cherished pop culture moments.

Back in the 1984, there was Reveng of the Nerds. Who can forget the triumphant scene when the boys of Lambda Lambda Lambda clinched a victory at the Adams College homecoming carnival competition by wowing the crowd with a nerd rap with front man Lamar Latrell?

Then in 1999, we had Office Space. In a brilliant scene that seemed inspired by a John Singleton movie, Peter Gibbons and his co-conspirators gather in an open field with an HP Laserjet printer and let out all their TPS report fury, stomping, smashing and punching the printer into oblivion, all while the rap song “Still” by the Geto Boys eggs them on. Also we have the scene earlier in the film where Michael Bolton is stuck in traffic, singing along with another Geto Boys song.

Then two years ago we had Weird Al Yankovic’s masterful parody “White & Nerdy,” featuring a cameo from Donny Osmond.  The scene in the back alley where he buys a VHS bootleg of the Star Wars Holiday Special is priceless.

As much as I love Weird Al’s hip hop homage to geek culture, NetApp has taken things to a whole new level. I gotta give a hat tip to Beth Pariseau over at our sister blog Storage Soup for this one.  In this YouTube clip from NetApp that spoofs the climactic rap battle scene in the film 8 Mile with Eminem, two rappers, named for storage rivals NetApp and EMC, clash with each other for hip hop storage supremacy, tossing out classic lines like “It’s obvious you’ve got stage fright/Couldn’t save a text file with a gigabyte.” It’s not as funny as some classic moments from the past, but the quality of the rhyming and rapping deserves some special recognition.

Update: Amy Kucharik pointed out that any history of the intersection of geek culture and hip hop is incomplete without a reference to nerdcore hip hop master MC Frontalot. And I have to agree. Take a look at this video for “It is Pitch Black,” an excellent homage to Zork, the text-based role playing game from the eighties that I have cherished memories of playing on an Apple IIc.

February 25, 2009  3:49 PM

Geek vs. Man vs. Wild: Get your grub on

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

What happens when you take a grizzled network admin and drop him in the wilds of Texas? I’m not sure either, exactly, but NetQoS put up a Man vs. Wild spoof featuring Cisco routers and NetFlow grub. Bear Grylls he’s not … but then again, I hear Bear himself needs off-screen assistance when he’s trying to keep 5 9’s of LAN uptime. I’ve included a clip of the real deal after the jump, for your grub comparison.

Continued »

February 25, 2009  3:47 PM

Trapeze opens new sales channel for wireless LAN

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Belden, which bought wireless LAN vendor Trapeze Networks last year, is trying to open up a new sales channel for wireless infrastructure. The company announced exclusive distribution agreements for Trapeze WLAN products with Graybar and Anixter International, two of the leading distributors of network cabling in the world.

When Belden purchased Trapeze some experts were left scratching their heads about the deal. Belden is a leading manufacturer of cabling and other signal transmission technology. Many analysts have been predicting consolidation in the WLAN market, but they were expecting switch vendors like Juniper and Foundry to do the buying as networking vendors looked to build out a unified wired and wireless product strategy. HP ProCurve’s acquisition of Colubris seemed to fit in with this trend. Just look at a company like Cisco, which can sell its switches and WLAN access points to the same people. It makes sense from a marketing perspective.

But Belden is trying something completely different with Trapeze, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Graybar and Anixtar already sell Belden cables, and now Belden is trying to expand those relationships through Trapeze.

Belden is hoping that when companies are designing the basic infrastructure of a new building, such as network cabling and power, they will also design wireless infrastructure at that stage as well. If this happens, it would make sense for companies to buy their cabling and wireless technology from the same distributor as they prepare to build a new building.

February 23, 2009  7:48 PM

Nortel’s Alteon deal with Radware worth pennies on the dollar

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

And you thought you were underwater with your mortgage?

Back in 2000 Nortel bought application delivery switching vendor Alteon for about $6 billion in an effort to keep pace with rival Cisco. Nine years later, Nortel is bankrupt and it is trying to sell off assets as it restructures itself. Nortel announced last week that Radware was buying the asseets of the Alteon business, but neither company announced the value of the deal. Today the Ottawa Citizen published the numbers, based on a filing in U.S. bankruptcy court.  Radware will pay Nortel around $17.5 million. That’s less than 3% of what Nortel originally paid for the company.

February 23, 2009  7:38 PM

Radware makes deal for Nortel’s application delivery business

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

One of the circling vultures has finally picked some of the juiciest meat of the bones of Nortel.  Israeli company Radware, an application delivery networking vendor, announced that it has agreed to buy Nortel’s Layer 4-7 appplication delivery switching business for an undisclosed sum. In the transaction Nortel is basically selling off the assets of Alteon WebSystems, a company it purchased nine years ago.

Nortel bought Alteon in 2000 for $6 billion in an effort to keep pace with Cisco, which had bought a competing company,  ArrowPoint Communications, just months prior for $5.7 billion.

Nortel is currently restructuring itself under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to U.S. bankruptcy law, the sale must be conducted at auction, so other companies have an opportunity to best Radware’s offer before the sale is finalized.

In its announcement of the deal, Radware said the Alteon products would be sold under the brand Radware Alteon. The company announced that it would offer a five-year support plan on Alteon products to ease the worries of existing Alteon customers. Radware plans to hire some of Nortel’s employees, it said.

Other vendors in the application delivery space have been trying to capitalize on the uncertainty surrounding Nortel and its Alteon line. For instance, F5 Networks announced plans to offer up to $9,000 worth of credit to companies that agree to trade in their Alteon switches for F5’s competing Big-IP switches.

If consummated, Radware’s acquisition of Nortel’s Alteon business will solidify its position as a strong competitor to F5, Cisco and Citrix in the application delivery networking market.

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