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AI World Conference & Expo · Boston, MA · December 11-13, 2017

Archive for November 2013

As an industry analyst, I get briefed on many, many new products, most of which are positioned to me as “transformative” and “game-changing.” The majority of the products, though, are frankly pretty lame, and the startup fades away after just a few years. However, every once in a while a vendor comes along with a product that makes me sit up and take notice because it solves a significant problem and creates a whole new market.

This was the case with Riverbed. Way in back in 2002, I remember Riverbed executive Eric Wolford (who recently left) came to see me at Yankee Group with PR person Kim Kapustka to show me a new product that can optimize WAN links. Going into the meeting, I was somewhat skeptical and was expecting something akin to another QoS device, for which there were many already on the market. Instead, Eric walked me through how the company actually accelerated the traffic and gave LAN-like performance to WAN-based applications, such as Windows and email. Riverbed created the WAN optimization market, and the company and market took off like a rocket. Before one of you out there posts a comment that states someone like Actona actually created the market because they were first, which might be true, Riverbed was the biggest, loudest vendor in the space and now stands as the market leader in the WAN optimization market.

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The tone of the recent partner conference was much different than Avaya events of years past, as we saw a more aggressive, confident Avaya.

This week, Avaya held its annual Executive Partner Forum under the abnormally cloudy skies of Cancun, Mexico. I thought the tone of this event was much different than Avaya events of years past, as we saw a more aggressive, confident Avaya. Historically, Avaya execs spent much of the keynote time trying to legitimize the company and convince the audience that Avaya was financially sound–very defensive in posture. While I understand why they did that, I’ve always felt that when that’s done too much, it actually has a bit of a negative effect, where people wonder why so much explanation is needed.

This year’s event started off with a funny hockey-related montage of “Avaya” versus the competition such as Cisco, Microsoft and ShoreTel, where a number of players were dressed in Avaya uniforms and the other team was made up of the above-mentioned companies. The premise of the video was that it was Avaya versus everyone else and Avaya was going to take its competitive shots and beat them when given the opportunity.

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It’s certainly been an exciting month for Extreme Networks. Earlier this month, the company closed the acquisition of Enterasys and announced earnings that Wall Street liked so much that the stock shot up 20% to a five-year high.

And this week the company announced its new Summit X770 top-of-rack (ToR) switch. The X770 is a 1RU switch but has a whopping 104 10 Gig-E ports on it, which makes it the highest-density 1 RU switch that I know of. Alternatively, customers can get 32–40 Gig-E ports from the switch.

Why might anyone need this many ports and that much bandwidth in a single RU switch? Well, the answer is bandwidth, and there’s certainly no shortage of new bandwidth-generating applications in the data center today. Extreme is focusing this particular switch on “Big Data” environments, which is a sound strategy given the momentum behind big data today and the reliance on the network.

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While software can bring unprecedented flexibility and portable scale for video applications, hardware platforms aren’t going away.

I find it fascinating how the communications industry likes to fixate on certain topics or themes and declare certain technologies dead, without much thought to how this might happen and the time it actually takes. Voice started the move to IP over a decade ago, but there’s still a heck of a lot of TDM out there. Communications is moving to the cloud, but most customers still buy premises-based equipment. SIP was supposed to commoditize the IP phone, but customers are still paying a premium for feature-rich phones.

The latest wave to hit our industry is the notion that software will kill off all hardware based platforms. The video industry, in particular has come under tremendous fire as a bunch of software-based startups have emerged and are calling for the head of the hardware-based MCU. However, I think this statement is grossly simplified and, while software can bring unprecedented flexibility and portable scale for video applications, hardware platforms aren’t going away.

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Mitel has been an innovator and forward-thinker; Aastra’s specialty was acquiring companies that had seen better days.

In the communications world, Monday could have been boring, with many North American companies taking today off to remember our War Veterans and the ones who gave their lives so we could have the freedom to do what we wanted–Veteran’s Day in the U.S. or Remembrance Day to all of my Canadian friends and family. However, the day did start with a bit of news as Kanata, Ontario-based Mitel acquired fellow Canadian company, Aastra for a cool $374 million, which is about an 18% premium based on where the stock was prior to the acquisition. Eric Krapf, as he usually does, gave us a great summary of news so I won’t go into the specifics since he’s covered that already.

On paper, this acquisition certainly makes sense, as the market is dominated by companies much larger than either Mitel or Aastra. Take Cisco and Microsoft out of the mix and there’s still Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise), NEC, and the list goes on and on. The combination of Mitel and Aastra creates a much bigger company that’s financially stronger and able to go toe to toe with some of the bigger boys.

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The Virtela services are highly complementary to the ICT-related services that NTT offers, and NTT now should become much stronger in the US.

Over the past few weeks, the IT news has been dominated by data center infrastructure vendors launching new products focused on simplifying data center operations. However, buying the latest and greatest switches isn’t the only way to improve IT operations. Another approach could be to use a service provider and offload part or all of the operational tasks–that is, assuming the service provider has the required IT skills. The need to gain these skills is why we have seen so much M&A activity from network operators buying IT solution providers.

On October 28, NTT, Japan’s national network service provider, acquired Denver-based Virtela Technology Services for a shade over $500 million. For those that don’t know Virtela, the company was a pioneer in providing network-based IT services. Long before network virtualization, software defined networks, cloud computing and UCaaS were popular trends, Virtela was offering such services–we just didn’t know them by these names.

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