Little doubt remains that the future of networking will be defined by software, but market-watchers warn Cisco is missing this move.
Cisco’s hardware forms the backbone of most enterprise networks around the world. But this world is changing and many buyers no longer see compute, storage and networking as distinct silos.
The demise of this era has been hastened not only by the cloud, but by big data, mobile and social media.
The future of networking is unknown, but little doubt remains that it will be defined by software, and market-watchers say this is a transition that Cisco, with its vast worldwide estate and vested interests, is missing.
Network buyers should think about how big suppliers protect their vested interests when considering buying a network solution from one of them – whether that supplier is Cisco, HP, Juniper, Avaya or a similar-sized operation.
Advocates of a new approach to networking say the basic architecture has not changed since the early 1990s, and it is unrealistic for this to continue. In a recent blog post, Dell’Oro Group analyst Alan Weckel
Vice President, Ethernet Switch & Enterprise Telephony Market Research Alan Weckel joined Dell’Oro Group in early 2006 and is responsible for the Ethernet Switch and Enterprise Telephony market research programs. While at the firm, Mr. Weckel has significantly expanded the Ethernet Switch research and created the firm’s WAN Optimization Appliance coverage. In addition, he has authored several Advanced Research Reports on the Ethernet Switch market and related technologies, including Cloud and SDN.) wrote that every dollar of revenue earned by an incumbent network supplier will have to be earned all over again as customers move away from their solutions and decide that upgrading speeds no longer counts as upgrading their network. It is perhaps unsurprising that more and more buyers are starting to inspect alternative suppliers. Gartner research director Andrew Lerner says tyre-kicking is an apt metaphor for software-defined networks in the mainstream. He says people are interested but, at a session in the US in June 2014, analysts found many were waiting for increased marketing around the concept from the legacy network owners, especially Cisco.
The real movement will come when networking specialists controlling budgets start getting questions from elsewhere in their organisation on why their demands cannot be supported, says Gartner. However, for those willing or even keen to look beyond the big suppliers, there are options.
White box and bare metal switches
SDN firm Pica8 claims to have more than 300 customers, including many cloud service providers. The company has based its approach to the network around white box-switching hardware, loaded with its own customisable Linux-based PicOS network operating system.
It claims that by using generic switches it can substantially undercut Cisco’s pricing, and give its customers a far more flexible network infrastructure.
Big Switch Networks is another supplier deploying SDN technology at a low price point by taking advantage of bare metal switches. Dubbed Big Cloud Fabric, it claims its flagship product is one of the industry’s most advanced SDN switching fabrics, and is being used to run private cloud, big data and virtual desktop deployments.
Big Cloud uses the firm’s own Switch Light technology in the data plane to share the same codebase and operational model across physical hardware platforms and hypervisors. When coupled with a centralised SDN controller, Big Switch says it can reduce network operation costs and make central provisioning, automation and troubleshooting far less time-consuming.
Its Big Tap Monitoring Fabric uses high-performance bare metal Ethernet switching to tap traffic from within the network and deliver it to security, troubleshooting, network-monitoring and application performance-monitoring tools.
Driving value from what you have
Network challengers are not confined to the West Coast of the US. Load balancing specialist jetNexus is based in the UK and, although the company works more specifically in the load balancing space, it still has a role to play in this new world of networks by helping customers optimise and extract more value from existing infrastructure. It is a use case for new approaches to networking that could be an easy first step for someone inspecting software-based networks, but it has not yet worked up to a full, ground-up rebuild.
"Typically, you find our market is dominated by one or two suppliers. We’ve come into the market to be a disruptive player for customers looking to drive more value from what they are purchasing," says jetNexus CEO, Jim DeHaven. "By offering a software-based solution at a more palatable price tag we can serve a bigger piece of the market.
"Traditionally, load balancing was for high-end service providers and enterprises but we can now bring functionality to the commercial and mid-market space, who have been priced out of the market by expensive hardware solutions.
"We see the big players are moving to horizontal markets to justify their model of expensive, proprietary hardware," says DeHaven.
This strategy seems to be helping, which has made gains in enterprise, middle market and even public sector networks in the UK and US.
"We have large banking customers but we are also driving into councils, the NHS, gaming, retail. SDN gives us access to a broader section of the market," says DeHaven.
Enterprises benefit more from bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies for employee tablets than to deploy enterprise-owned smartphones and laptops, said Gartner. At a recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo the analyst firm predicted the cost of a BYOD strategy is nearly half that of implementing a corporately owned, personally enabled (Cope) scheme – but only if the organisation passes some or all of the running costs to the employee. “IT leaders can spend half a million dollars to buy and support 1,000 enterprise-owned tablets, while they can support 2,745 user-owned tablets with the same budget,” said Federica Troni, research director at Gartner. “Without a stipend, direct costs of user-owned tablets are 64% lower. When organisations have several users who want a tablet as a device of convenience, offering a BYOD option is the best alternative to limit cost and broaden access.” Gartner predicted that, by 2018, there will be double the amount of employee-owned devices used for work than corporate-issued devices. But enterprises will only save money using these methods if firms do not reimburse employees for voice and data plans, or if subsidies are set at a low level. Tablet adoption Tablet adoption has been growing over the last year, withtablet ownership in the UK increasing by 20% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2014. Enterprises have also seen an increase in tablets. Earlier this year, Dell found at least 90% of IT decision-makers in most countries claim tablets are a standard part of their company’s IT strategy. Gartner said 90% of organisations will support some form of BYOD plan in the year 2017. However, a recent survey by Ovum and Dimension Data found over 60% of organisations are unable to adopt a BYOD policy due to business risk and compliance rules. “A balanced mix of enterprise-owned and user-owned devices with different levels of stipends will be the most effective way of capitalising on the benefits of BYOD programmes, both in cost reduction and in the level of access to mobile technology,” said Troni. Please contact us if you need to order a BYOD project: email@example.com
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