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

In the movie “Back to the Future,” Dr. Emmit Brown built a Delorean-based time machine that when the “flux capacitor” was powered with 1.21 gigawatts (pronounced jig-a-watts in the movie), it would allow someone to go back in time (or ahead). I just got back from this year’s Interop conference and it started me thinking about the past. So let’s set the old time machine to the spring of 1995 and we’ll attend an Interop conference. Remember those days?

If you can recall the really old days of Interop, the pre-Vegas days when the event was held in D.C., the purpose of Interop was actually network interoperability. During those days interoperability in the network was a huge problem as there were many competing protocols, such as Banyan-Vines, AppleTalk, IPX and a host of other network protocols. Additionally, there were many different connection types such as FDDI, CDDI, Token Ring and the like. So buyers went to the show to figure out what worked with what and how to actually a build a network. The John Chambers proclamation that everything would move to IP seemed a bit far-fetched and Interop was in its heyday.

So what happened? Well Ethernet and IP won and won big. There weren’t all that many interoperability problems. Grab a Cisco switch and an Intel NIC and it worked. Swap out that switch with another and the systems connect. Admittedly, there are a number of advanced features that didn’t, but the basic and blocking and tackling became standardized ,so the show had to change and Interop became more of a trade show – a place to be seen and meet people, where the core interoperability testing wasn’t needed.

Well, the world of networking has changed again and, from my conversations with network professionals, interoperability is a problem. I think Interop has an opportunity to go back to the future and play that role again. The biggest areas in which the show could do interoperability testing are:

  • Software-defined networks (SDNs). The ratio of mouth share to dollars spent with SDNs is off the charts right now. Everyone’s talking about it but few are doing it. One of the reasons is that there are so many approaches to it that buyers don’t know what to do. Some of the vendors have taken it upon themselves to do some level of interoperability testing (Arista, NEC, Brocade) but, by in large, there’s no real standard. Interop should carry on with what some of the vendors have started and make the show THE place to go to for SDN interoperability testing.
  • Network fabrics. Another high mouth-share-to-dollars-spent technology, fabrics have been all the rage. But what’s a buyer to do? TRILL, SPB, MLAG, Q-Fabric, VCS, Fabric Path and the list goes on. Then you hear about distributed switching on a single tier, spine and leaf, fabric extenders, server-based fabrics and vendors why adoption has been slow. Earlier this year Avaya, Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent funded their own fabric interoperability test and it got mixed reviews. Some liked it and others thought it could have been more comprehensive, but I say kudos to the trio for at least trying to show some interoperability. Well, again, Interop should take over and have fabric interoperability be part of the show.
  • SIP Interoperability. SIP and SIP trunking are all the rage right now with UC buyers. However, all SIP isn’t built equal. There’s a core set of features but then most vendors create proprietary extensions to their solution. So whose stuff works with whose stuff? Well, let’s have that be part of the Interop show.
  • Cloud interoperability. We might be a bit early on this but if you believe that the world is moving in the direction of federated, interconnected clouds, then interoperability would be an important component of this.

I for one would love to see the conference become the place to go to understand how all this new networking stuff fits together. Frankly, I’d like to see the show get out of Vegas as I’ve got that “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine noise going through my head. However, I’ll take Vegas as long as Interop returns to Interop.

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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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