2013 was certainly a big year of change in the networking industry. As always, we had some big news made with new product announcements, executive changes and merger and acquisition activity. However, there were a few happenings that I thought stood out above all in networking for the year 2013.
VMWare Launches NSX
At VMWorld 2013, VMWare launched its long-awaited network virtualization platform, NSX. The launch in August was somewhat of a formality, as the company had made a tremendous amount of noise regarding the solution since it acquired Nicira for a cool $1.26 billion in mid-2012. NSX is a network virtualization platform that enables virtual overlays to be initiated and terminated at the hypervisor layer, creating some interesting dynamics with the actual physical network. At VMWorld, the company was clearly targeting the VMWare buyer and not the network manger with this product, which creates equally interesting domain issues within most companies.
Cisco Unveils Application Control Infrastructure (ACI)
Interop New York was rumored to be the event in which Cisco would announce its SDN strategy. John Chambers himself was the highlight of the event, adding more speculation that “something big” was on the agenda. However, whether by plan or not, Cisco didn’t announce at Interop, and instead held a special one-day event in New York where the company announced its intention to acquire “spin in” company Insieme, then went on to articulate its vision for SDNs: Application Control Infrastructure (ACI). In practice, ACI isn’t so much an “SDN”, as it includes hardware, software, management tools, and services to deliver end-to-end infrastructure to help enterprises reduce the amount of time taken to provision resources. Cisco announced many ACI partners at the event including F5, Citrix, EMC, and NetApp, to name a few.
Cisco and VMWare Put Up Their Dukes
For years now, both Cisco and VMWare have said in public that they were the best of friends; customers want both, so they’ll remain great partners. I think it’s fair to say that 2013 was the year their fight went public, and the feud has become the technology version of Red Sox vs. Yankees. NSX and ACI are both based on the concept that there is a single control point for the data center, and both companies want to be that control point. NSX and ACI are vastly different in their approach to data center simplification. One is pure software (NSX), the other is a mix of hardware and software (ACI). One is hypervisor centric (NSX) and the other is fabric centric (ACI). This is going to be one of the great tech battles to watch over the next few years and it started in earnest in 2013.
Five years ago, Juniper hired Microsoft executive Kevin Johnson to be the CEO of the company, replacing longtime CEO Scott Kriens. Two years ago, Johnson recruited fellow Microsoft alum Bob Muglia to run the software strategy at Juniper and turn the company into a “software first” solution provider. Well, Muglia recently resigned and Johnson is moving on at the end of this year, bringing to an end the Microsoft era at Juniper. It’s hard to say the Johnson era was a success, but it’s also hard to say it was a failure. Under Johnson the company had a number of significant product launches, including PTX, MX, upgrades to SRX, EX, and QFabric. However, the company never managed to make that leap to a software first company, which I believe is a good thing. For a company like Juniper, competitive advantage is created from a combination of hardware and software, and that’s where the focus should be. Incoming CEO Shaygan Kheradpir should focus on having Juniper return to its roots of building the best telecom platforms, instead of chasing a golden egg that isn’t even in the best interests of the company.
Extreme Buy Enterasys
The acquisition of Enterasys by Extreme helps out both companies. For Enterasys, they wind up in the hands of an owner that puts networking first. Its previous owner, Siemens Enterprise (now Unify), is a Unified Communications first vendor that used the network products to support the company’s overall collaboration strategy. It’s a nice plan on paper but hard to execute on, and I think selling that business off was the right thing to do. For Extreme, the coming together of the two companies makes them the #4 market share vendor and enables it to compete in more deals, more aggressively. More importantly though, Extreme gains a best-in-class WiFi product instead of reselling a Motorola product that has fallen behind in technology. To me, this was a win for both companies as well as the customers, and I’m expecting to see good things from the combined entity in 2014.
Huawei Backs off the US
Cisco and the rest of the networking industry have kept an eye on Huawei for years. The Chinese infrastructure vendor has done a great job gaining share in emerging markets and was supposed to hit the market hard this past year. However, a lack of channel growth combined with speculation that the Huawei gear could be used to spy on the US created significant headwinds for Huawei, and they appear to have reduced their presence in the US. I believe this to be a temporary case and fully expect to see Huawei hit the US markets again in the near future, but for now North American vendors can breathe a bit of a sigh of relief.
Pandemonium in Software Defined Networks
2013 certainly wasn’t the year for SDN deployments; however, it was the year of SDN product announcements and hype. Late in the year, Broadcom finally released its Trident II chip, and the industry saw somewhere in the area of 10 SDN-focused product launches that use the new chip. Additionally, the definition of what SDNs are broadened this past year. Coming into the year, much of the focus was on centralized control and programmability. It seems that in 2013 network virtualization, converged infrastructure, rapid provisioning, and network function virtualization (NFV) all became hot issues. This did nothing to help adoption, though, as network managers seem more confused than anything as to what to do with SDNs and what problem it should solve.
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