Network equipment suppliers will work to make the dream of network virtualization a reality in 2014
JUL 24, 2014 13:02 PM
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TBR Perspective

Transformation within the networking industry is occurring rapidly, as networks continue to evolve to fulfill their role as the delivery mechanism for a rapidly growing number of enterprise applications, particularly those being delivered via the cloud and mobile devices.

As expected, most of the major network hardware suppliers, including Avaya, Cisco, Dell, HP and Huawei, had a strong presence at Interop Las Vegas 2014, and software vendors such as F5, VMware and Citrix have emerged as major players within the networking ecosystem. One notable exception was Juniper, whose presence was limited to leading a handful of workshops, as the company did not have a booth in the vendor exhibition hall — further evidence Juniper is de-emphasizing its enterprise business as it focuses on cutting costs in the short term and charting a course for long-term growth.

Huawei's presence at Interop, and its complete portfolio of enterprise solutions finally available in the U.S., proved the company is not ready to abandon the U.S. enterprise market. Huawei faces an uphill battle, but will remain focused on penetrating the U.S. by building its distribution channel in the country and delivering true end-to-end ICT solutions.

Network virtualization (e.g., software-defined networking) was again a hot topic at Interop Las Vegas; TBR was briefed about leading vendor solutions such as Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure, Dell's Z9500 Fabric Switch and Active Fabric Controller, F5's Synthesis, and VMware's NSX. Additionally, enterprise mobility trends, including bring your own device (BYOD), continue to be a major driver of enterprise network strategy and spending, and solutions such as Avaya's Automated Campus and HP's Cloud Managed Network will see strong customer adoption in 2014 as a result.

Network Virtualization: Moving Beyond the Hype

At last year's Interop Las Vegas, vendors were primarily focused on communicating their network virtualization strategies and demonstrating initial solutions. This year TBR witnessed not only a maturation of these solutions, but also suppliers presenting real-world customer deployments as proof points that network virtualization may realize its potential after all. Unlike in 2013, when network virtualization deployments were found only in the data centers of large cloud providers such as Google and Amazon, customers in other verticals such as retail and manufacturing are now deploying the technology in a meaningful way.

TBR believes some significant obstacles remain for network virtualization to proliferate within the broader enterprise market — namely, the lack of a clear and easily understandable business case and lack of clarity as to who within the IT organization is responsible for deciding which network virtualization architecture to implement.

While the evidence is mounting that network virtualization will lower overall network hardware spend, information to support a robust business case for the technology is lacking. There is also the challenge of quantifying the true cost of the software, hardware and professional services required to transform network functions from physical to virtual while still operating at scale with seamless fidelity and reliability. Widespread adoption of network virtualization will occur when product results can justify investment and thus provide a foundation for a business case. TBR believes network virtualization business cases will be forthcoming so long as momentum of vendor solutions and customer deployments continues, accelerating network virtualization adoption throughout enterprise networks.

Even in situations where the business case for deploying network virtualization is clear, the issue of exactly who within the IT organization should make the final decision as to which approach is right for the enterprise remains. During past network-specific technology transitions (e.g., 100 Mbps Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet) the network organization had clear responsibility and authority for all decision making. However, with the emergence of solutions designed to extend server virtualization into the network domain (e.g., VMware) the server group now has a seat at the table, bringing with it a compelling story to tell. This is creating friction within the IT organization, which TBR believes will limit the speed at which network virtualization is adopted.

Suppliers will continue to focus on educating customers on the benefits of network virtualization, helping IT make a strong business case for adoption and facilitating smooth decision making wherever possible. TBR expects to see progress in network virtualization in the form of more use cases and customer success stories by Interop Las Vegas 2015.

Event Overview

TBR attended Interop Las Vegas from March 31 to April 4, 2014. In addition to dozens of workshops related to cloud, virtualization and mobility, the event included keynote speeches from Larry Quinlan, global chief information officer of Deloitte; Rebecca Jacoby, senior vice president and chief information officer of Cisco; Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware; and Stephen Gillett, chief operating officer of Symantec.

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