Archive for June 2014

Cisco has been making a number of smaller acquisitions, obtaining Tail-f a few weeks ago and spending less than $100 million this morning to acquire Assemblage.

In Major League Baseball, some teams try and win by always going for the big home run. My beloved Red Sox are such a team, although they’re not hitting many this year so they find themselves in a position that the Cubs are normally in: Last place! Other teams, such as the St Louis Cardinals, win by playing “small ball.” A hit there, stolen base here, one run this inning, one the next, and all of a sudden all these small things become a win.

In tech, some vendors like to swing for the fences. For example, Oracle recently dropped $5.3 billion for Micros Systems to bolster its position in a few markets. Oracle took a huge swing and we’ll see if it works. Cisco, on the other hand, has been making a number of smaller acquisitions. A few weeks ago they acquired Tail-f to support their telecom strategy, and this morning the company spent less than $100 million to acquire Assemblage.

If you’re not familiar with Assemblage, the company is a small (8 people) organization based in San Francisco that provides the tools and infrastructure for browser-based collaboration. At this size, the purchase is as much about talent acquisition as it is about the product.

Last week, Facebook announced a new product that’s supposed to have the networking industry trembling. There were many news stories about Facebook’s new homegrown SDN switch, known by the codename “Wedge” that’s supposed to be the next big threat to Cisco and the traditional networking vendors. The operating system on the product runs Facebook’s proprietary version of Linux called FBOSS.

Facebook plans to put the switch into the Open Compute Project, an open-source development community that Facebook has been active in. In many ways, Wedge isn’t so much a switch as it is a reference design. Everything in the switch is open source – software, processors, etc. – so anyone can build their own switch from the design. Now, for customers that are interested in this product, there’s no “Facebook Store” to buy this from. Nor can organizations pick up the phone and call the friendly, neighborhood VAR. Instead, businesses would need to order it from a custom manufacturer.

Riverbed, the company known best for its Steelhead WAN Optimization product, has beefed up its Application Performance Management (APM) suite. In 2012, Riverbed acquired OPNET for a cool billion to complement the network performance management (NPM) suite it inherited when it purchased Mazu. The product formerly known as OPNET, AppInternals Xpert was rebranded to SteelCentral AppInternals, and this week the company released version 9.0 of the suite.

The SteelCentral product consists of several components. Collector agents are deployed on the end points to gather information. The data generated is then passed to a collector that aggregates the information from the agents. The collector then passes the information to the SteelCentral AppInternals console as the “single pane of glass” for the system. All of the historical information is then stored in a centralized repository known as AppInternals Big Data. This enables customers to then go back and reply information or use the data for historical analysis.

The big value for something like AppInternals is helping customers find where problems are occurring faster. My research has shown that 90% of the time taken to solve problems is simply isolating the problem. Once the problem is found, IT can take whatever action to remediate the issue, but finding that proverbial needle in a haystack is very difficult with legacy management tools. This becomes a significantly bigger problem as businesses start to leverage the IP network for voice and video traffic. All of a sudden network problems that may not have been noticeable stick out like a huge sore thumb. I’ve talked to a number of Riverbed/OPNET customers over the years and AppInternals reduces the time to find problems by an order of magnitude in some cases.

It seems every couple of years the chatter of John Chambers retirement as the CEO of Cisco comes up. Recently, there has been a flood of articles speculating when he might retire, including this one from the esteemed Jim Duffy. There seems to be no basis for this other than a report from Scott Raynovich, who cites a bunch of unnamed sources.

The other factor fueling the chatter is timing. Almost two years ago, Chambers stated that he would look to retire in two to four years, and we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of his CEO-ship of Cisco. Very few tech CEOs ever hold a tenure that long, so the 20-year mark seems like the right time for Mr. Chambers to end his reign at the helm of the company. Additionally, Chambers turns 65 later this year. 20 years, 65th birthday, 2 years after his statement – it all fits together nicely.

This morning, Cisco announced its intention to purchase Sweden-based Tail-f Systems for about $175 million in cash and retention-based incentives. That seems reasonable for a software company that did about $30 million last year and is well aligned with the emerging SDN/NFV markets. Additionally, being headquartered in Sweden means Cisco can pay for this out of its foreign war chest instead of tapping into domestic cash.

While Tail-f does have some enterprise relevance, it’s really more of a service provider product. The company is well known for managing and orchestrating multi-vendor environments and has many service providers as customers, including AT&T and Deutsche Telekcom AG. Having AT&T as a customer is of particular interest given all the news around Domain 2.0 and Cisco being left out of the initial six. Now Cisco has a foot in the door of Domain 2.0.

Cisco Live 2014, the company’s 25th annual user event, is now in the books, and I’ve had some time to reflect on the show. At the show, Cisco did what it does best and gave attendees a glimpse of the future and where technology is headed. This helps Cisco customers stay out ahead of the industry trends and prepare for these trends to hit their businesses. This year, Cisco CEO John Chambers and the cast of other presenters gave us a heavy dose of Internet of Everything (IoE), cloud computing, data center evolution, mobility, collaboration, video and the need to use the network as a platform.

The glue that connects all of these themes together is, of course, the network. This elevates the network from being the “pipes” of a company to being an enabler of these trends. If the network isn’t operating properly then the trends I listed above won’t provide the company the benefits it may be seeking.

The changing role of the network and increased importance has made managing the network critically important today. However, the legacy tools that most businesses use just aren’t cutting it. In a recent ZK Research survey, I asked how satisfied the respondents were with their current network management tools and a whopping 80% said they were considering changing vendors. (Disclosure: I work for ZK Research)

Prior to my days as an analyst I spent many years toiling away in corporate IT. The area within IT that I had the most interest and passion in was the network. It’s a little like when Spock said to Captain Kirk that “commanding a starship was his first, best destiny.” Sure, Kirk might go and try being a diplomat, but at the end of the day he finds his way back to the bridge.

Similarly, I might go dabble with servers, applications or other areas, but I always looked at things through the network lens. Sometimes that’s helpful, like when yanking out that old, legacy PBX in favor of a VoIP system is a no-brainer. However, sometimes the networking thought process could make you look for problems that aren’t there.

One such example has been the evolution of the storage area network (SAN). The idea of a totally parallel network running a dedicated, single-purpose protocol like FibreChannel confounds network professionals and is one of the reasons why the networking industry has been beating the drum to put a bullet in the protocol and migrate to something more mainstream like FibreChannel over Ethernet (FCoE). Why? Well, because Ethernet is perceived to be better. It’s simple, it’s ubiquitous, it costs less, and it’s the way everything else has gone.

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