This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Well 2011 is winding down now and this past year was certainly a big year of change in the network industry.  The industry saw the introduction of “fabrics” into data centers with several traditional network vendors ship product this year.  In addition, hot start up Arista flexed its muscles and started making traction, particularly in the financial services vertical.  But alas, 2011 is coming to an end and its time for some predictions. So, for 2012 here is what I expect to see in the network industry. 

  • The empire continues to strike back.  I’ve always found Cisco to be rather passive when it comes to making public statements about competition.  Rather than address competition, Cisco chose to just talk about its own vision and strategy and that worked well when the competition was 3Com, Nortel and Lucent.  Well times, have changed and Cisco’s passivity has let companies like HP, Riverbed and Juniper dictate what the perception of Cisco is.  We started to see that change in 2011 with Cisco doing a demo of Cisco versus a “good enough” network which was clearly aimed at HP, we saw the anti-Juniper marketing with “over promises and under delivers” and, we also Cisco go after Microsoft hard this year trying to dispel the popular misconception that Lync is “free”.  I certainly don’t expect this to abate any time in the near future.  In fact, get used to seeing more of this out of Cisco, as they now want to have better control over the perception of the company.
  • New names join the network scene.  The enterprise networking market has had a few new names join the scene over the past few years.  Avaya acquired Nortel giving it the first networking products in about a decade.  Brocade acquired Foundry to add Ethernet to its portfolio, Juniper rolled out enterprise switching and Alcatel Lucent revamped its enterprise network portfolio early in 2011.  In 2012 expect Huawei and Dell (acquired Force10 in 2011) to hit the North American market in a big way.  For it’s networking products they have and share they want.  Based on refreshed products cycles, I’m also expect Enterasys and Extreme to be much more active in 2012.  This will be the most competitive year in enterprise networking in maybe a decade.
  • F5 and Riverbed collide. While F5 and Riverbed both participate in the “application networking” market, they really haven’t competed with each other much.  Expect that to change in 2012 with Riverbed pushing Stingray (from the Zeus acquisition) into F5’s buying base.  This will set up an interesting battle as F5 hasn’t had a competitor that’s even close to being as well run as Riverbed in years.
  • Wireless LAN market consolidation continues.  To say wireless LAN is hot is a huge understatement.  The number of wirelessly enabled devices making its way onto enterprise networks is creating a huge tailwind for this market.  I’m expecting at least two of Meraki, Aerohive, Rucks or Meru to be acquired in 2012.  Buying one of these companies seems like a no brainer for Dell, Alcatel-Lucent could certainly look it add it to their portfolio and HP hasn’t made much headway with its Colubris acquisition.  All of the previously mentioned wireless LAN vendors have alternative approaches to the tried and true controller based model and could pose a problem to the market leaders in the hands of the right company. 
  • The fabric wars begin in 2012.  2011 will certainly be remembered as the year of the fabric announcements.  Juniper, Cisco, Brocade, Alcatel-Lucent, HP, Arista, Avaya, Extreme, Enterasys and Force10 all announced a “fabric” strategy.  However, we saw very few deployments of an actual fabric as most of the products became commercially available late in 2011.  Expect to see the fabric wars heat up in 2012 with numerous customer announcements from the various vendors as they try to jockey for leadership position.  Also, expect more confusion, which should create opportunity as we see vendors offer qualifiers in front of the work “fabric”, such as “Ethernet Fabric”, “Data Center Fabric” and “Enterprise Fabric”.  Who wins this war?  Well confusion creates opportunity and while Cisco has the inside track due to its huge market share it’s not a fait accompli it just gets handed to the 800 pound gorilla.  The fabric is the most disruptive technology switching has seen since the token ring – Ethernet days and that disruptive effect is good for the whole industry. 
  • Service management replaces element management.  I’ve long believed the current network management industry does not meet the challenges of where IT is going.  Legacy management tools, such as OpenView and Unicenter manage individual elements and let network managers know when something is up or down.  However, network managers are increasingly faced with the challenging situation where everything on the board is “green” but yet users are calling complaining about problems.  The solution is to flip the traditional bottoms up model around and manage top down.  Element management lets the IT manager fix existing problems where service management focuses on predicting and preventing problems. Vendors like Netscout, Opnet and Riverbed’s Cascade are more in line with the future direction of IT and network managers need to shift their strategies accordingly. 

As turbulent as the enterprise network industry was in 2011, I think the disruption is just beginning.  Virtualization, cloud, consumerization and wireless all have an impact on the network on their own.  Combine these trends and we get a market that’s poised for disruption so expect to see even more change in 2012.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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