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Archive for June 2012

There was no hotter topic at Cisco Live 2012 than software defined networks (SDN). The industry has been talking about the concept of SDN for a couple of years now but customer interest in it seems to be at an all-time high. Many of the primary network vendors have outlined their SDN strategy and Cisco used its user event, Cisco Live, to outline its strategy.

At the conference the company announced Open Network Environment (ONE), its approach to network programmability. Cisco ONE is similar to other SDN announcements I’ve seen over the past several months but broader than most. The focus from most in the industry has been on the control plane and data plane. Cisco’s ONE solution is a combination of agents, APIs, controllers and overlay technologies to bring programmability to each layer of the network stack. Cisco ONE starts at the transport layer and extends through the management and orchestration layer. This approach allows Cisco to bring a high level of programmability to the network with or without OpenFlow, and with a high level of customization.

Cisco ONE includes a software developer kit, One Platform Kit (OnePK), which brings programmability across Cisco’s switch and routing operating systems, including IOS, IOS-XR and NX-OS.

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One of the more interesting parts of the annual Cisco Live event is the “World of Solutions” exhibit hall. This is where many of Cisco’s vendor partners exhibit their wares and try to sell their products to the massive Cisco install base. Although the Analyst Relations team at Cisco didn’t give me that much time to walk the show floor I did find time to see a few of the vendors, one of which stood out for its unique approach.

ISI Telemanagement Solutions had a booth at the show it shared with VOSS Solutions and demonstrated what they called a UC Business Analytics Solution (UC-BAS). For those who don’t know these two companies, ISI provides cost management software for voice, data, wireless and UC. VOSS is one of the UC “middleware” vendors that provides design, configuration and management solutions for UC solutions, including the red hot Cisco Hosted Collaboration Service (HCS).

The joint solution, UC-BAS, attempts to provide business analytics to try and measure the value of UC, which has historically been a difficult, if not impossible thing to measure. In fact, one of the analyst roundtables I attended was on the ROI of collaboration and the primary take away from that was that the ROI is unique to each company and measuring the value had to be done almost on a case-by-case basis. The UC-BAS solution attempts to measure this by understanding who uses what tools and how often. Companies can use this to determine how the UC applications should be rolled out to its user base.

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Cisco bolsters customer relationships and strengthens its position in servers and software. Looking ahead, network management and vision should be the next focus.

Cisco Live 2012 is now in the books and I thought it was a much different event than other Cisco Live/Networkers events that I had been to in the past and I thought I would share my thoughts on the event.

My biggest takeaway from the event was the improved relationship between Cisco and its customers. Post-restructuring, Cisco made a commitment to listening to its channel and customers better. The message from the resellers at Partner Summit in April was that indeed Cisco was listening to its partner base better. The feedback from Cisco Live was similar, with almost every customer I managed to interview saying that they felt their voice was being heard and Cisco was easier to work with today than a year ago. Much of this credit goes to COO Gary Moore, who was tasked with cleaning up a lot of the back-end systems problems that created long lead times, POs falling through the cracks and other issues that frustrated Cisco’s resellers and customer base.

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Communities of interest have been all the rage over the past few years. Just this year alone we’ve seen Infoblox, Aruba and other tech vendors launch online communities to support their products. The concept behind the community is that users of the products can share ideas, use cases, scripts, architectures or anything else related to the product, and what better way to learn about what’s possible than by leveraging the power of the community.

Although there are many vendors trying to build this today, no one has executed on this better than F5 Networks. For those who aren’t familiar with F5, the company has a scripting language called iRules that administrators can use to enable custom features and do some cool things with the products. DevCentral was created to allow the community to share these ideas, scripts and use cases with one another, and over the past few years it’s become extremely popular and easily F5’s biggest competitive differentiator.

This week F5 made its biggest enhancement to DevCentral since its announcement that it’s moving DevCentral to the cloud. All cloud-enabled F5 solutions will now be running in multiple Bluelock virtual data centers, making the functionality ubiquitously available to the DevCentral community.

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Cisco kicked off its annual user conference, Cisco Live on Tuesday, June 12th. As it has for the last 10+ years, the event kicked off with a keynote from CEO John Chambers, which is normally one of the highlights of the event. I’ve seen a lot of Chambers keynotes over the years, and there have certainly been many of them, but I felt the keynote lacked some closing punch.

The keynote started out with a bunch of BMX bikers doing stunts to fire up the crowd. It was a very cool attention grabber, and not as cheesy as the roller-skating “Cisco Inferno” of a few years ago. The actual keynote started out with Chambers talking a lot about market transitions and the importance of catching them at the right time. This isn’t a new pitch for Chambers. He’s been talking about the importance of market transitions now for several years.

But this year he took a slightly harsher line on it by saying that “market transitions wait for no one,” and that companies that didn’t catch them would basically die. I believe this has been the key driver to Cisco growth over the past two decades as they caught many transitions, such as the move from hubs to switches, bridges to router, switched voice to VoIP, and the list goes on and on. It’s an important message, particularly for Cisco’s SP customers that have historically been slow to catch transitions.

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It’s been a couple of weeks since Interop and I’ve had some time to think about some of the happenings from the conference. One of the sessions I ran was a panel on the value of session management, and I came away disappointed in the panel responses. Session management has been hyped by the vendors as one of the next big things in Unified Communications. On my panel I had a number of representatives from various UC solution providers and I asked what I thought was a pretty basic question – What are the killer applications for deploying a session management solution?

There was one answer given by all four of my panelists and that was that session management makes it easier to deploy SIP trunking. While this is true, I felt the answer lacked much of the real, long-term value of session management. Here are the primary reasons I think session management needs to be part of every company’s UC strategy:

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