Archive for 2013

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.

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.

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.

While much of the technology news this week has been dominated by data center announcements, there is more to IT than software-defined networks. This week, session border controller vendor Sonus announced the version 4.0 release of its flagship SBC 5000 product line.

The 4.0 release gives the SBC a more significant role than it has had in the past. Historically, as the name might imply, an SBC is used at the border of networks to manage and secure IP sessions. Sonus is now positioning the SBC as an internal device that controls traffic moving across network boundaries, as well as traffic moving within the enterprise network. This means being the control element for LAN, WAN, off-net and mobile traffic.

Additionally, most engineers consider the SBC to be a device that manages voice traffic only. Sonus now wants the SBC to handle all types of multimedia traffic, particularly video. The emphasis on video certainly doesn’t imply that video is more important than voice, chat or other collaborative applications. It’s just that video is a beast to manage because of the amount of bandwidth it generates. The Buggles wrote a song in the 80s called “Video Killed the Radio Star,” but in IT video kills the corporate network, if not managed correctly.

For decades now, Cisco has been the single biggest factor in driving network change. Over the years, the company has been aggressive with VoIP, PoE, MPLS, wireless LAN and most recently converged infrastructure, and has gained a significant early-move advantage. However, when it comes to software-defined networks, I think it’s fair to say that Cisco has lagged in both technology and vision, and has let the likes of VMware, Arista and Big Switch get out in front and carry much of the messaging.

Yesterday though, CEO John Chambers effectively grabbed the throats of many of the smaller, SDN pure-plays, and stated “Where are your rebel friends now?” at the company’s Application Centric Infrastructure event in New York. Specifically, the company, to no surprise, announced at the event that it was acquiring the remained of spin-in Insieme following a similar path to what we saw with Nuova and Andiamo, and went through its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) vision.

Getting into the details, ACI is certainly a bold vision for the industry. It promises a unified, single point of control and visibility for the management and provisioning of virtual and physical infrastructure. This would mean networking, compute, storage, virtual machines, application services and security all manage a single entity.

The vision is certainly a bold one, as it portrays a world where the entire data center can be managed from a single point.

It seems like years that we’ve been talking about the latest Cisco “spin in”, Insieme, and what the company was building. Well, on Wednesday, at a media event in New York, Cisco announced it was buying the remaining portion of Insieme and unveiled its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) vision.

The vision of ACI is certainly a bold one, as it portrays a world where the entire data center can be managed from a single point, which is the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). In addition to the APIC, Cisco also rolled out new Nexus 9300 and 9500 switches, an optimized operating system and some other supporting hardware, such as custom optics to drive the price per connection down.

The last piece of the ACI puzzle is something called application network profiles, which can be thought of as the expansion of existing UCS service profiles. Today service profiles are used to automatically configure UCS related infrastructure such as NICs, HBAs (host bus adapters), servers and network devices. Now take this concept and expand it to storage, layer 4-7 services, hypervisors, security functions and other infrastructure in the data center.

One of the primary value propositions of Software Defined Networks (SDNs) is that it optimizes the performance of the applications that run on networks today. However, almost all of the SDN-related products that have been released to date operate at layer 2/3 which, of course, have no direct relevance to applications. I agree that if there’s congestion or something else impacting performance at those lower layers, applications themselves will be impacted, but for the most part, the world of applications and networks have been managed in independent silos.

To help bridge this gap between applications and networks, many network managers, data center folks and even some application developers have turned to application delivery controllers (ADCs). The ADC speaks both the language of networks and applications and can be thought of as the “Rosetta stone” of IT, and plays a key role in enterprises’ ability to roll out applications rapidly and keep them performing optimally.

However, SDNs have recently turned the networking world upside down. Things that were physical are now software-based and virtual. Networking has a level of dynamism that has never been seen before. This trend has raised the question of what the role of the ADC is in this new virtual, software-driven world.

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