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Archive for June 2012

This week Extreme Networks joined the list of vendors that have unveil their software defined networking (SDN) strategies. In my opinion, it’s one of the better SDN announcements in that it was both broad and deep, highlighting some of Extreme’s long-standing strengths.

One of the fundamental tenets of an SDN is that it enables programmability of the network. Accomplishing network programmability across its product line was relatively easy for Extreme as its XOS operating system has had a high degree of programmability for years now. I remember talking to Extreme about “programmability” about five years ago, but there was little interest in it then. The company had a few strong proof points but the interest certainly wasn’t near what it is today.

Specifically, what the company announced was support for multiple OpenFlow controllers, including NEC and BigSwitch. Additionally, Extreme announced a Quantum API-based plug-in for OpenStack. The combination gives developers, cloud providers and others interested in SDN a number of programmability options, including APIs, SDKs as well as a handful of Extreme-designed, purpose-built applications.

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The creation and fostering of vendor-sponsored communities has been an incredibly hot trend over the past couple of years. There’s no greater example of the bilateral value a community can provide to the vendor and the customer base than what F5 has created with its DevCentral community. Over the past year or so we’ve seen Riverbed, Aruba, Infoblox and others unveil their versions of a community, and this week Acme Packet joined the growing list of technology vendors that are trying to capitalize on the power of a community.

The concept of the Acme community is not dissimilar to other ones that have been created recently, as it’s meant to enable better collaboration between Acme’s partners, customers and employees. If executed correctly, the Acme site could become the de facto information source for anyone interested in markets related to Acme products, which is quite diverse. Topic areas include SIP Trunking, operational issues, IMS, VoLTE, unified communications, and interoperability. The best source right now for market-level information is nojitter.com, but there isn’t really a site that addresses practical implementation issues and problems developers and administrators will face. It’s similar to the role Network World plays, providing market-level information, and then F5’s DevCentral delves a level deeper into support and operational issues.

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Juniper Networks has certainly seen its ups and downs over the past few years. The company is trying to move into new areas while its historical base of strength, routers, is under attack from not only arch-rival Cisco but also a number of other vendors trying to crack the router code, such as Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei. While the potential for share loss is always there, routing has always been something that Juniper has excelled at and, despite a more competitive landscape, I think Juniper will maintain its current market position.

A good indicator of this is the recent announcement from Verizon that it was selecting Juniper’s PTX Series router for its converged MPLS core. PTX will enable Juniper to converge all four of its IP networks onto a single MPLS network, saving Verizon millions in the long run. Without PTX, Verizon would have been faced with the daunting task of upgrading each of those networks separately. With more video, mobile and could computing traffic coming, and coming fast, having a single, converged network provides many advantages over trying to run multiple independent ones.

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The much-hyped tablet has a few advantages, but will this be the device that unseats Apple? I doubt it.

So amid plenty of hype and speculation, Microsoft finally unveiled the long awaited tablet–the “Surface”. This is the device that’s supposed to let Microsoft gain ground on Apple and be the true iPad disruptor. Considering Microsoft’s lack of success in mobile devices, I’m shocked at the hype around this device. I even saw a Citrix post on Facebook that asked if the Surface could overtake the iPad as the preferred tablet in the workplace? Seriously? Or as my step daughter Arianna would say, “For Reals?” Aren’t we getting a bit ahead of ourselves here?

I read Tim Greene’s Network World article comparing the two devices and from a strict speeds and feeds perspective, the Surface has some advantages over the iPad. Better battery life, I think the ARM processor rocks and integrated business applications. But are these enough to make a dent in the iPad market? I say no and here’s why.

First, tablets augment the laptop; for a few workers, it’s the primary device. However, in most cases, it doesn’t fully replace the laptop. Workers operate in two modes: information consumption and information creation. A laptop is a superior information creation device, as the keyboard and mouse/glide pad give people the control to manipulate images, input numbers into a spreadsheet and type quickly. The tablet is a superior consumption device. Flipping through documents, playing videos, etc is great on a tablet, as it’s optimized for viewing. I believe that a device that tries to do both will be equally mediocre at both, and that isn’t what workers want. Frankly, if someone wants a device that’s super thin and has a keyboard and kickstand, why not just buy a MacBook Air? I know the price point of the Surface is less than an Air, but then buy an ultrabook.

Next, the application availability for the iPad is orders of magnitude greater than for the “Surface,” and these are consumer devices even when used in the workplace. Tim’s article points out how the Office Suite is available for the Surface and not the iPad. OK, advantage Microsoft for people that want to create and edit Office documents on a tablet–but I think that advantage is minor. As I stated above, when workers want to create or manipulate documents, they’ll use a laptop or a PC and when they want to view, they’ll use a tablet–and the iPad applications in this area are fine. The tablet augments the laptop, not replaces it, so Microsoft’s monopoly-like share with Office won’t translate to de facto tablet success.

Lastly, I know people looked at the device and saw the attached keyboard, and I wonder why that’s such a big “a-ha” for people. There are plenty of keyboards available for Apple and Android tablets, some even built into the case. Admittedly, not quite as thin, but that’s just a matter of time, and eventually moves to projection keyboards and other input mechanisms (such as voice).

I understand why the world wants to see Microsoft be successful with its tablet. It’s no fun having one dominant vendor, and the Android tablet never managed to make much of a dent in the Apple market dominance. If Microsoft is going to have some success, I believe that it’s going to be at the expense of Android for those people that don’t want to buy an Apple device.

Long term, I believe that the tablet market will play out like the MP3 player market with Android and Microsoft fighting for #2. There will be plenty of companies that take a shot at unseating Apple, but as long as Apple doesn’t slip up, they’ll keep the share. This is because consumer devices aren’t successful because of the device itself; instead it’s the entire experience that creates Apples success. The iPad, iPhone, iCloud, iTunes and other i-things are why Apple has been winning this war.

If you remember back, Microsoft had tablets long before Apple did, and the knock on them was they weren’t great as laptops or tablets, so people didn’t buy them. Not that past performance is any indicator of future performance (see BlackBerry) but market share only changes significantly when there’s some sort of market transformation going on, and there isn’t one here for Microsoft to capture. So will this be the device that unseats Apple? I doubt it. Same Apple. Same Microsoft.

Cisco is trying to lay the foundation for the transition to social as a primary work tool, displacing email.

Today at the Enterprise 2.0 event, Cisco announced a number of enhancements to WebEx Social, the product formerly known as Quad. The first, and most obvious change is the name–Quad goes away and Cisco will use the WebEx brand for its social networking product.

I was never a huge fan of the name “Quad”; I understand what Cisco was trying to do but it did highlight the fact that it was a separate and distinct product from WebEx and the other collaboration products. The WebEx brand is solid and is something Cisco can look to build on. This is pure speculation, but I’m guessing that the two products will eventually have a common foundation that Cisco develops from, which should give the two products the same look and feel. Additionally, (up on my soap box), a common set of APIs and development tools is important to fueling the Cisco Developer Network efforts (off soap box).

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Many vendors will claim to have invented the term “network fabric.” I’m not 100% sure who actually used it first but in my mind, Juniper was the first to go mainstream with it. It’s a little like MPLS was back in the day. Ipsilon actually invented it but Cisco evangelized it and made it a real market. So I’ll give Juniper the nod here and acknowledge that launching the project “Stratus” is when the term “network fabric” actually went mainstream. I believe Brocade was the first vendor to ship a fabric, allowing them to wear that badge of honor.

The launch of Stratus was several years ago and, since then, much has transpired. Stratus became QFabric, David Yen jumped to arch rival Cisco and QFabric has fallen under tremendous media scrutiny as a product that has failed to come close to the initial hype around it. So, the question I pose is whether QFabric is indeed the game-changing technology Juniper says it is, or it’s just a cool idea that never really catches on.

On the positive side, I will say that the concept behind QFabric is interesting. It’s very simple and elegant – a big distributed switch. I remember having a discussion with Juniper’s Andy Ingram about Occam’s Razor. That is the theory that states when there are multiple solutions to a problem, the simplest one is the best one. What’s simpler than a single-tier network? Nothing. So, according to that principle, QFabric should be a smashing success.

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