Archive for April 2014

It seems that we in the networking industry have been talking about evolving the WAN for well over 20 years now. The traditional “hub and spoke” WAN that we’ve all grown accustomed to was ideally suited for client/server computing, where users were in branches and applications were located in the data center.

Over the years there have been small, incremental changes to the WAN that have improved the performance and security of the network. MPLS is now the de facto standard instead of frame-relay and WAN optimization has become a core service for many organizations. These changes did indeed improve the WAN marginally, but it’s time to overhaul and re-architect the WAN.

Most companies have survived with a legacy WAN for years, so why do I now think WAN evolution is a business imperative? The primary reason is that compute is shifting from client/server and the internet to cloud and mobile. Cloud and mobile computing create entirely different traffic patterns than legacy computing models. Also, business agility is a top priority for company leaders, and that drives the need for IT agility and, more specifically, network agility. As a result, today’s networks are highly inflexible.

Salesforce is launching SOS Service to enable businesses to provide customer support similar to Amazon’s Mayday button.

Remember the old Abba song called “SOS”? It starts off something like “Where are those happy days, they seem so hard to find, I tried to reach for you but you have closed your mind.” What Abba was referring to is that the happy days of call centers are long gone because customer service is getting harder and harder to do in an increasingly mobilized, consumerized world. Quite brilliant of Abba to foreshadow this, given that the song was popular in the 70s (although it had a bit of rebirth because of one of my favorite Broadway shows–Mamma Mia.)

That fact is, though, that customer service in the mobile world is hard to do. Users are on the go, operating systems are different and people demand answers to things faster than ever before. With the world evolving quickly, customer service needs to also change, and change quickly.

Over the last few weeks, the security industry has been rocked by the Heartbleed bug, which impacted OpenSSL-based websites. Heartbleed takes advantage of an OpenSSL feature called heartbeat, which exchanges data between the user’s computer and the webserver. Heartbleed causes the web server to send back a massive amount of data, rather than only the data it’s supposed to, including sensitive, private customer information. The bug caused many companies and vendors to scramble to develop a fix to prevent any further leakage of data.

However, F5 customers were protected from the bug if they were running the security module. F5’s cipher stack customers were not affected as the bogus requests were identified and dealt with before they could get to the web server. It actually makes a strong case for running SSL offload in the application delivery controller (ADC) as a matter of standard practice.

So, that’s great for customers who use SSL offload, but what about customers who do not? Well, for that F5 actually created an iRule within a couple of hours of heartbleed being discovered. Customers could then apply the iRule to the F5 ADC and be protected from it.

Because the way we work today is significantly different from even a few years ago, smart boards now make a lot more sense for the enterprise.

Earlier this week I spoke at Westcon’s UC Connections Event, a regional event for a number of the company’s resellers. There were numerous sponsors there, including many of the companies one would expect to see at a UC event: Avaya, Polycom, AudioCodes and Microsoft’s Lync. One of the more interesting presentations that made me think a bit about the evolution of UC was from Rob Spicer, Global Distribution Manager of Enterprise Solutions from SMART Technologies, maker of “smart boards.”

Smart boards certainly aren’t new by any measure. I remember using a smart board back in the ’90s when I worked for a university in Canada. While I found value then, the usage of smart boards was limited primarily to the educational sector and had never been all that appealing to mainstream businesses. So why do I now think they should be a core technology?

To say Wi-Fi is hot is as big an understatement as saying that A-Rod is a cheater. Everyone knows it’s true, but it’s bigger than most people think. In a joint ZK Research/Tech Target Network Purchase Intention Survey that was run near the end of 2013, Wi-Fi ranked as the No. 2 in priority for network managers, behind only the red-hot security market.

The primary driver of Wi-Fi is, of course, the influx of millions of consumer devices into the workplace, which means the wireless network needs to be expanded and made denser. Deciding to deploy more Wi-Fi is an easy decision, but deciding on whether to stick with N or to deploy AC may not be easy. One would think that shifting to AC, the newest standard, is a no brainer; however there are a number of challenges that need to be dealt with in order to have a successful 802.11AC deployment.

Using Lync over the WiFi network shouldn’t be overly challenging for most organizations–as long as the right steps are taken.

Of all the unified communications (UC) platforms on the market, Microsoft Lync is perhaps the most interesting. Unlike all the other vendors that start with voice and then grow into the other stuff, Microsoft starts with desktop applications and then tries to pull voice through. Over the past several years, Microsoft has done a great job of getting Lync on to users’ desktops, and now Microsoft and many of its ecosystem partners, such as Polycom and Plantronics, have been aggressively pushing Lync Voice.

There are many things to consider when deploying Lync Voice, such as what phones to use, readiness of the wired network and beefing up the WAN. However, one area that’s often overlooked is the WiFi network. In most companies, the WiFi network typically augments the primary wired network. However, for many Lync users, WiFi will be the primary network utilized, given the attractiveness of Lync to mobile workers.

I believe Juniper was the first mainstream network vendor to use the term “fabric” aggressively to describe its next-generation network architecture when the company announced QFabric back in early 2011. There may have been another vendor that used it first, but Juniper made it mainstream. Since then, almost every network vendor uses the term “fabric” broadly, and Juniper itself announced its next phase in fabric-based network when it unveiled MetaFabric in late 2013.

Subsequently, I’ve heard many customers, investors, and even some other analysts ask me what the difference was between MetaFabric and QFabric. The first thing to understand is that while QFabric and MetaFabric are related, MetaFabric does not in any way replace QFabric. I’ve heard some rumors about Juniper’s QFabric being retired because of MetaFabric, but in discussions with Juniper, I can most certainly say that this is not true. QFabric is here to stay.

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