Posts Tagged Ethernet
Software Defined Networking (SDN) dominates networking industry conversation today. The $1B+ acquisition of Nicira by VMware got everyone’s attention. Big Switch also received good buzz at the launch of its open ecosystem. While it is Wikibon’s advice that enterprise CIOs shouldn’t wait for the market to mature more before trying to jump into an SDN solution, one of the underpinnings of future solutions is available today. OpenFlow (which is only a piece of the SDN story) requires a controller and OpenFlow enabled switches. According to the SDN Central website, the following vendors are currently shipping OpenFlow-enabled switches:
Intel is well known for its consumer PC chips and for its business solutions, which defined the Wintel era. Intel also has a strong networking portfolio. Long a dominant player in the adapter/LOM space, Intel has been aggressively expanding its position to adjacent technologies. Last year, Intel acquired merchant silicon vendor Fulcrum Microsystems and today announced that it is acquiring QLogic’s InfiniBand business. The acquisition is for $125M in cash; QLogic originally acquired the InfiniBand technology as a $60M purchase of SilverStorm in 2006 [Update: and $109M on PathScale also in 2006]. Mellanox is the market leader in InfiniBand, and it added Ethernet to its portfolio last year.
This week in Las Vegas, just about every networking vendor will release one of more press releases at Interop telling you about all of the latest and greatest products and technologies. Even for those that watch the industry closely, it can be difficult to squint through the details to figure out the differentiation between the product lines. From a size, density, power and performance standpoint, vendors leapfrog each other all of the time from one generation to the next. Thanks to the big trends of virtualization, cloud computing and the transition to higher speed architectures (10Gb Ethernet getting broad traction and 40Gb and 100Gb Ethernet products now starting to go into production environments), there are real areas to differentiate.
The networking space is in the midst of significant changes. The starting point is the transition to higher speeds, with most customers finally moving to 10Gb Ethernet (almost a decade after the standard was ratified), and 40Gb and 100Gb solutions starting to become available. But the real drivers that make networking strategic to IT are the trends of virtualization, convergence and cloud. As has been the case for the last decade, the conversation of the marketplace starts with Cisco. Cisco has been talking about “Data Center 3.0” for over three years; today’s Cisco announcement (here’s the PR) is delivering on a number of pieces of the vision. As Cisco pushes into adjacent server market, it finds the networking marketplace more competitive than it has been in many years.
In the storage networking space, convergence has been the hot topic for the last four years. I will be attending SNW in 2 weeks and a quick look at the agenda shows that “converged” or “unified” trail only “cloud” in buzzword bingo. I wrote recently about how FCoE sales are doing well in embedded and rack-based solutions. While the move to Ethernet based storage networks is growing, there are many things that customers and vendors can do to accelerate this transition. The storage industry is notoriously slow to change and this is about more than just a protocol transition (which always take much longer than anticipated). The imperative for companies to adopt converged infrastructure is that CIOs are under tremendous pressures to lower costs, IT must compete with cloud pricing models and staffs are increasingly moving from specialists to generalists. While some customers will wait until FCoE ships as part of a standard configuration (expect more LOM solutions when Intel’s Sandy Bridge servers roll out), here are my recommendations for the industry on accelerating convergence.
I have to admit, when I first heard that Juniper was looking to deliver a “single tier” for networking, I thought it was a case of marketing one-upmanship. Every networking vendor has been pitching its own version of how to flatten a network to gain greater efficiencies and support the different traffic patterns driven by virtualization. I wrote last year that there wasn’t much differentiation between the various high level messages of moving to a two-tier network. Juniper has announced the architecture of it’s Stratus Project – the first hardware component, the QFX3500 starts shipping this quarter and the full QFabric solution is expected to ship by Q3’11. Juniper’s deconstruction of a switch, which allows for greater scale, lower latency and most importantly an order of magnitude in the number of devices to be managed, is truly innovative (not a term I use lightly).
Today, IBM officially announced the formation of its System Networking group (it’s buried in this PR). I’m on the record saying that IBM’s acquisition of BNT is not to attack Cisco. IBM is a master at the practice of co-opetition, and has a stated commitment to maintain partnerships, unlike HP, which has openly declared war on Cisco. The networking industry has undergone a realignment that will challenge Cisco’s dominance in the space.
Today, Mellanox announced plans to buy Voltaire for $218M. This is not a surprising move – Voltaire was a customer of Mellanox InfiniBand silicon yet the two companies often were competing head-to-head in the switch market which was driving down the price of both of their businesses. I heard that OEM customers had been pushing for this marriage of companies for some time so that they can join forces on the low latency marketplace. Voltaire has a Low-Latency Ethernet product which does not use Mellanox silicon, but I would expect that it will convert to the in-house solution in the future. While the InfiniBand market has had good growth, consolidation of the supply chain makes sense, vertically integrating to suppliers that provide chips, adapters and switches. QLogic went from a customer of Mellanox to a competitor with the acquisition of SilverStorm in 2006. Mellanox is the lead supplier of InfiniBand chip technology and now with Voltaire being acquired by Mellanox, we have a horse race with QLogic as the other end-to-end InfiniBand solution provider from chips and switches.
Commoditization of IT, moving to more standardized components is a force that affects every product line across the industry. Looking at the details of any server or storage device will show the impact that Intel has had. Network switches have specialized chip designs that differ from processors, but face the same competitive pressures of creating new generations of products at a lower cost with more functionality. The move to standard switch components has moved significantly over the last decade and is creating a shift in the economics of the switch market. Specifically, hardware value is flowing from the switch vendors (Cisco) to suppliers of switch silicon (Marvell, Broadcom, QLogic). The implication is that to maintain margins, switch manufacturers will need to look for alternative value streams.