Optimism was abundant at Interop in Las Vegas this week. Attendance and energy was up from the more economically subdued shows of the last two years. While I only got to spin through the event for a few hours, I did get to talk to a bunch of the companies and bloggers at the show. While cloud (and the fabric networking that enable scalable architectures) may have been the big theme, but the undertone in the networking space was attacking Cisco while they are believed to be vulnerable due to some soft financial results and restructuring.
Tactical attacks in the rack
Cisco is still the 800-pound gorilla in the networking space, but it was the launch of its entry into the adjacent server marketplace. The launch of the UCS has redrawn the lines of partnerships and led to some acquisitions (notably HP/3COM and IBM/Blade Networks), but both HP and IBM still sell a lot of Cisco kit (especially through services engagements). Where Cisco is most vulnerable is in embedded and top-of-rack deployments. Oracle, HP, Dell and IBM all do a good job of embedding or bundling solutions, keeping Cisco out of the rack for environments that do not purchase UCS for compute. Cisco’s partnerships with EMC and NetApp are important for helping to sell FlexPod and Vblock solutions that help break into the applications where the vertically integrated Oracle, HP and IBM have strongholds. It’s interesting to note that in the design of edge switches, there has been a move towards off-the-shelf chips rather than custom ASICs. Even Cisco buys chips for the new Nexus 3000 (for low latency environments). One of the leaders in the embedded chips for switches is Broadcom. The video below is a summary of my trip to Interop and includes footage from Broadcom’s booth where there are 3 racks of switches with Broadcom chips.
Footholds in the Core
The transition to new technologies and architectures at the core of a network will take many years. Competitors of Cisco have tough challenges; there is a large hurdle in changing vendors in the networking space due to training, management and support issues. Before the show, I wrote that trying to frame the discussion as open versus proprietary isn’t enough. I believe that the vendors are starting to do a better job at defining what separates them from the competition in the marketplace. HP has a broad portfolio of solutions – I’ll be looking to dig a lot deeper on their technologies next month at HP Discover (back in Vegas again), you’ll be able to watch as part of Wikibon and SiliconAngle’s Cube Summer Tour. Greg Ferro of EtherealMind showed me HP’s prototype of an optical backplane at the HP booth at Interop, very cool technology, see his write-up here (copper isn’t dead, but optical is definitely increasing). Juniper’s message is about scalability and simplification of management and brought the QFabric at the show (see photo of the interconnect chassis and switches). Juniper has been showing impressive revenue growth and looks to continue the trend by leveraging its fresh new technology architecture and partnerships with IBM and Dell. Arista has been looking to move beyond its strong position in the HPC marketplace into the broader data center market. According to Arista’s VP of Marketing Doug Gourlay and CEO Jayshree Ullal, Arista has won a number of large customer deals in the Web 2.0 space thanks to the programmability of its platform and is growing partnerships across the storage (Cisco does not have a monopoly here) and cloud ecosystems. Force10 launched its Open Cloud Networking strategy the week before Interop; it’s 1 part philosophy and 2 parts product and technology. Force10’s foothold in the market is for high performance data center markets and claims some of the highest throughput and densest switches with its Zettascale Z-Series switches. Finally, while I did not get to see Brocade at Interop, I attended its Tech Day the week prior and also interviewed CEO Michael Klayko at EMC World (see the video here). Brocade is well known from its storage networking products and has now fully integrated its product line from the Foundry acquisition in 2008. Brocade was the first vendor to use the “fabric” term a year ago (fitting since “brocade” is defined as a heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design) and is actually shipping solutions, not simply talking about it.
Jackpot or Hangover?
It’s good to see everyone getting excited about learning at the trade shows. There are so many new areas to investigate (Open Flow seemed to be getting some good buzz), that we must remember that ultimately, end-users must balance the management and growth of existing environments with the transformation to make their environment and IT staff more efficient. Cisco still has the largest install base, sales force and partner ecosystem. I’m sure that Cisco Live in July (also in Vegas) will have huge attendance and likely some worthwhile announcements. Customers have more choices than ever: cloud, service providers, systems integrators and lots of strong competitors looking to provide value and simplicity at lower cost and power than ever before. While IT budgets are a little bigger than the last couple of years, IT staffs are still under intense pressure to maintain costs; customers should be sure to fully the full upfront, management and expansion costs of new proposals.
VOTE FOR MY VMWORLD SESSION
One final note – it’s time for voting for VMworld sessions and it seems that I am one of the only non-vendors to submit a session for Networking in the Technology and Architecture Track. My session is 1927: Data Collision: How Virtualization is Converging Enterprise Networks. Go to VMworld.com, login and give me a vote. I promise to give an independent look at the trends and realities of how virtualization has rippled to affect networking and the IT stack – see my EMC World sessions for a reference. Also, if my session gets approved, I will be in a polo and khakis rather than a suit and tie (which I’ve been wearing for the video broadcasts from recent tech shows). Please vote for my session so that I can give back more to the community!