Networking: Enterprise Communication: Out of the Box

A gritty march of virtualization and cloud models into the hitherto forbidden realms of networking brought about a solutions-driven approach to the fore

The networking equipment industry continued to undergo a technology transformation, which reflected on the market dynamics as well. The players were busy realigning with the shifts that have been pushing the industry out of its legacy box models into the more agile and nimbler models such as those shaped by cloud and software defined networks.

While almost all of the IT pieces, including servers, storage and applications, have been virtualized for quite some time now, the networking majors had managed to resist change for long, in the interest of their proprietary businesses. No more.

With the maturing of network functions virtualization (NFV) algorithms and the likes of VMware putting their weights behind those developments, the change got inevitable.

Key Players & Developments

Cisco: No other player’s market position is perhaps more threatened by the disruptive changes brought about by the new technological paradigms. No wonder, the networking major has been busy pulling up socks on various fronts and has been realigning with the rapidly evolving market expectations and needs. It was not only working on the offerings, but also worked to re-orient its key partners in preparation of securing business in a changing market ahead. It introduced the cloud services reseller program, primarily aimed at its gold partners, and also announced three new business transformation certifications—Cisco Transformative Architecture Specialist, Cisco Business Value Specialist and Cisco Certified Business Value Practitioner. The company is initially eying its large gold partners.

This was seen as a strategic channel program, aimed at enabling key partners over the next three-to-five years.

These moves came within months of Cisco having announced its SDN platform in mid-2013 and given a picture of its SDN roadmap, after the acquisition of the SDN specialist company Insieme. The SDN platform has two major components—the application policy infrastructure controller and the Nexus 9000 series of switches.

Meanwhile, in a major management change in 2013, Naresh Wadhwa left Cisco India as its President and Country Manager to pursue entrepreneurial interests, which created a leadership vacuum. Jeff White was brought in as President India and Saarc. (White was to be replaced in June 2014 by Dinesh Malkani)

Juniper: Juniper, which is the second most significant player in the networking segment after Cisco, and is particularly strong in the routers segment, was not untouched by the SDN waves. However, instead of attempting to develop a full suite of offerings by itself, the router major chose to ally with a partner that could offer more holistic software-based virtualization solutions for diverse network environments. In August 2013, Juniper Networks said it had expanded its partnership with VMware to deliver a broad range of solutions for unifying virtual and physical networks within a virtualized data center environment. These solutions, which will include VMware NSX L2 Gateway integration and VXLAN routing capabilities across access, aggregation, core and edge tiers of the data center network, will offer enterprise customers seamless management of workflows across virtualized and non-virtualized systems. Juniper Networks said the VXLAN routing and gateway capabilities would enable both intra- and inter-data center solutions and accelerate the transition to software-defined networking.

Juniper noted that the partnership between Juniper Networks and VMware represented a shared commitment to delivering simplified, flexible solutions that enable customers to more easily migrate to SDN as their business needs evolve.

However, Juniper also had its own SDN building blocks in place, notably the JunosV Contrail, which it built over the intellectual property gained from its acquisition of Contrail Systems earlier. In May 2013, Juniper introduced JunosV Contrail, as a family of products which includes the JunosV Contrail Controller, an open, standards-based controller for SDN.

In line with the various SDN related announcements, Juniper, like Cisco, also made a number of updates to its Partner Advantage program, and sought to incentivize around aspects such as cloud, services and distribution.

Hewlett Packard: Hewlett Packard (HP), which has historically been strong in SMB segment in the LAN market, saw SDN as a key opportunity to penetrate deeper into the enterprise segment, which has been a Cisco bastion. It devised new strategies around SDN to take on market leader Cisco.

The IT behemoth, which also has its fingers in more pies than Cisco, took to an “app store” model to make its SDN proposition more attractive and open to customers as well as partners. Much like the mobile app stores, HP’s SDN app store creates a platform where partners could place their applications developed using HP’s SDN developer kit. The company then said a large number of partners including Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, PwC, Riverbed, Citrix, ShoreTel, SAP, Tech Mahindra, VMware and Websense had signed for the SDN developer kit. However, like Cisco and Juniper, HP too put forth its Virtual Application Networks (VAN) SDN Controller, which lay at the control layer of the SDN stack.

What Next?

While models like SDN and NFV are helping to punctuate the flow of the market streams, some of the larger themes—like the Internet of things—stay on course.

In a significant recent development, Cisco announced a strategic engagement with the Electronics City Industries Association (ELCIA) in Bangalore to develop its first end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) innovation hub in Asia.

This collaboration will help establish the foundation for a new ecosystem to help Electronic System Design & Manufacturing companies and other companies of electronic city engaged in IoT product development.

As part of this effort, Cisco will help provide the network infrastructure and expertise for testing and production of electronic product prototypes for an IoT enabled smart city environment. Through the ‘Living Lab’, ESDM start-ups and other electronic city companies can build solutions for city infrastructure management including smart parking, smart CCTV surveillance, smart street lighting, smart water management/leak detection and community messaging. The project will utilize the Cisco Smart+Connected City Wi-Fi solution that will help enable community Wi-Fi services and allow access to public utility offerings. ELCIA will also embed Cisco network equipment comprising access points, routers, switches, and other required hardware and software applications that will be connected to the smart city’s fiber-optic backbone network.

The first phase of this smart city project will be rolled out in electronics city and will serve as a replicable model for the rest of Bengaluru as well as other cities in India.

At the beginning of 2014, Juniper’s Managing Director for India and Saarc, Ravi Chauhan, left the company after a stint of four-and-a-half years while some senior managers from the India operations were also relieved. Ashish Dhawan, who was Country Manager, Enterprise, at Juniper India, was later given the charge as the Managing Director for the company’s India &Saarc operations.
More recently, Juniper Networks appointed Candensworth as its distributor for India and South Asia. Cadensworth, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of distribution major Redington, became an authorized distributor of Juniper’s products and solutions and gain partnership benefits from Juniper’s Distributor Advantage program.

Wi-Fi is becoming a more central and unified part of the emerging themes in networking. Where the players don’t have enough strengths in either LAN or WLAN, they are coming together to complement each other’s offerings in a more strategic and integrated manner. In one such significant move, Juniper Networks and Aruba Networks announced they signed a strategic agreement to deliver open, converged wired and wireless network solutions, targeted at the mobility market. The partnership includes both joint development efforts and go-to-market collaboration.

Juniper said, as part of the collaboration, it is enabling technology partners like Aruba to take advantage of Juniper’s programmable silicon by making available key software elements and new programmable APIs. Juniper and Aruba would be addressing mobility market trends with product-level integration that leverages open protocols and open APIs on Juniper switches and routers, and contextual data on users, devices, applications and location available from Aruba’s enterprise WLAN products, it said.

In the Wi-Fi segment, an important development that took place in December 2013 was the ratification of the latest WLAN standard, 802.11ac. The standard gives Wi-Fi the teeth it has lacked due to the limitations present with the earlier standards. Some of the most significant features of 11ac include the speed, which could reach up to 1.3 Gbps, and the ultra-wideband channels, which could range from 40 MHz to as much as 160 MHz. Also, the standard used the uncluttered frequency band of 5 GHz unlike the earlier standards that mostly operated in 2.4 GHz frequencies, which are increasingly surrounded by various 3G and 4G frequencies.

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