Category Archives: IT Consumerization

F5′s Look Ahead

I’ve always admired how F5 Networks built its business. Against what seemed heavy odds at the time, F5 took the fight to Cisco Systems and established market leadership in load balancing, which subsequently morphed into market leadership in application delivery controllers (ADC).

F5 now talks about its “Intelligent Services Platform,” which “connects any user, anywhere, from any device to the best application resources, independent of infrastructure.”

To be sure, as various permutations of cloud computing take hold and mobile devices proliferate, the market is shifting, and F5 is attempting to move with it. To get a feel for how F5 sees the world, where it sees things going, and how it intends to meet new challenges, you might want to have a look at a 211-slide (yes, that many) presentation that company executives made to analysts and investors yesterday. 

By its nature, the presentation is mostly high-level stuff, but it offers interesting nuggets on markets, products, technologies, and partnerships.  

On Network Engineers and Industry Eccentrics

On Network Engineers

Alan Cohen, former marketing VP at Nicira Networks (until just after it was acquired by VMware), wrote an engrossing piece on the rise and fall of “human IT middleware.” His article deals broadly with how system and network administrators are being displaced by software developers in an IT hierarchy reordered by datacenter virtualization, automation, and cloud computing.

Previously, the future of the networking professional has been discussed and debated in a number of forums. In early 2011, back in the veritable dark ages before the ascent of software-defined networking (SDN), Ziyad Basheer, writing at Greg Ferro’s EtherealMind, wondered about how automation tools would affect network administrators. In June of this year, Derick Winkworth (aka CloudToad), in his last column at Packet Pushers before he joined Juniper Networks, opined on the rise of network-systems engineers

Also at Packet Pushers, Ethan Banks subsequently argued that network engineers could survive the onslaught of SDN if they could adapt and master new skills, such as virtualization and network programmability.  Ivan Pepelnjak, though he sounded a more skeptical note on SDN, made a similar point with the aid of his “magic graphs.” 

Regardless of when SDN conquers the enterprise, the consensus is that now is  not the time for complacency. The message: Never stop learning, never stop evolving, and stay apprised of relevant developments. 

On Industry Eccentrics 

Another story this week led me to take a different stroll down memory lane. As I read about the truly bizarre case of John McAfee, recounted in news articles and in recollections of those who knew him, I was reminded of notable eccentrics in the networking industry.

Some of you wizened industry veterans might recall Cabletron Systems, from which Enterasys was derived, run in its idiosyncratic heyday by founders Bob Levine and Craig Benson.   There’s an old Inc. article from 1991, still available online, that captures some of the madness that was Cabletron. Here’s a snippet on Levine: 

He is, after all, prone to excess. Want to know how Levine has spent his newfound wealth? He bought a tank. A real one, with a howitzer on top and turrets that spin around. Last summer, for kicks, he chased a pizza-delivery boy, and the following day while “four-wheeling in the woods,” he ran smack into a tree. He emerged with one less tooth and a concussion. The buddy with him got 17 stitches. Levine also owns 15 guns, which he has, on occasion, used to shoot up his own sprinkler system. His 67-foot Hatteras is named Soldier of Fortune. Some people swear they’ve seen the magazine of the same name lying on his desk. “I’m not a mercenary or anything,” he says with a smile. “But if business ever goes bad. . . . “

Here’s an excerpt from the same article on Benson, who later served as Governor of New Hampshire

Last summer Benson joined 40 employees for a Sunday boat trip. Afterward he ordered two of them fired immediately. One had not even started yet. “I hated him,” says Benson, who was eventually persuaded to give the new hire a chance. At sales meetings, reports Kenneth Levine, it’s standard to conduct private polls on who will go next.

You cannot make this stuff up. Well, I couldn’t.

Lest you think networking’s only colorful characters were Cabletron’s dynamic duo, I’d like to reference Henry T. Nicholas III, Broadcom’s founder and former CEO. He even had a Vanity Fair article written about him, though ultimately the lurid charges against Nicholas were dropped.

Lessons for Cisco in Cius Failure

When news broke late last week that Cisco would discontinue development of its Android-based Cius, I remarked on Twitter that it didn’t take a genius to predict the demise of  Cisco’s enterprise-oriented tablet. My corroborating evidence was an earlier post from yours truly — definitely not a genius, alas — predicting the Cius’s doom.

The point of this post, though, will be to look forward. Perhaps Cisco can learn an important lesson from its Cius misadventure. If Cisco is fortunate, it will come away from its tablet failure with valuable insights into itself as well as into the markets it serves.

Negative Origins

While I would not advise any company to navel-gaze obsessively, introspection doesn’t hurt occasionally. In this particular case, Cisco needs to understand what it did wrong with the Cius so that it will not make the same mistakes again.

If Cisco looks back in order to look forward, it will find that it pursued the Cius for the wrong reasons and in the wrong ways.  Essentially, Cisco launched the Cius as a defensive move, a bid to arrest the erosion of its lucrative desktop IP-phone franchise, which was being undermined by unified-communications competition from Microsoft as well as from the proliferation of mobile devices and the rise of the BYOD phenomenon. The IP phone’s claim to desktop real estate was becoming tenuous, and Cisco sought an answer that would provide a new claim.

In that respect, then, the Cius was a reactionary product, driven by Cisco’s own fears of desktop-phone cannibalization rather than by the allure of a real market opportunity. The Cius reeked of desperation, not confidence.

Hardware as Default

While the Cius’ genetic pathology condemned it at birth, its form also hastened its demise. Cisco now is turning exclusively to software (Jabber and WebEx) as answers to enterprise-collaboration conundrum, but it could have done so far earlier, before the Cius was conceived. By the time Cisco gave the green light to Cius, Apple’s iPhone and iPad already had become tremendously popular with consumers, a growing number of whom were bringing those devices to their workplaces.

Perhaps Cisco’s hubris led it to believe that it had the brand, design, and marketing chops to win the affections of consumers. It has learned otherwise, the hard way.

But let’s come back to the hardware-versus-software issue, because Cisco’s Cius setback and how the company responds to it will be instructive, and not just within the context of its collaboration products.

Early Warning from a Software World

As noted previously, Cisco could have gone with a software-based strategy before it launched the Cius. It knew where the market was heading, and yet it still chose to lead with hardware. As I’ve argued before, Cisco develops a lot of software, but it doesn’t act (or sell) like software company. It can sell software, but typically only if the software is contained inside, and sold as, a piece of hardware. That’s why, I believe, Cisco answered the existential threat to its IP-phone business with the Cius rather than with a genuine software-based strategy. Cisco thinks like a hardware company, and it invariably proposes hardware products as reflexive answers to all the challenges it faces.

At least with its collaboration products, Cisco might have broken free of its hard-wired hardware mindset. It remains to be seen, however, whether the deprogramming will succeed in other parts of the business.

In a world where software is increasingly dominant — through virtualization, the cloud, and, yes, in networks — Cisco eventually will have to break its addiction to the hardware-based business model. That won’t be easy, not for a company that has made its fortune and its name selling switches and routers.

Google Move Could Cause Collateral Damage for RIM

In a move that demonstrates Google’s willingness to embrace mobile-device heterogeneity in the larger context of a strategic mandate, Google today announced that it would bring improved mobile-device management (MDM) functionality to its Google Apps business customers.

No Extra Charge

On the Official Google Enterprise Blog, Hong Zhang, a Google software engineer, wrote:

“Starting today, comprehensive mobile device management is available at no extra charge to Google Apps for Business, Government and Education users. Organizations large and small can manage Android, iOS and Windows Mobile devices right from the Google Apps control panel, with no special hardware or software to manage.

In addition to our existing mobile management capabilities, IT administrators can now see a holistic overview of all mobile devices that are syncing with Google Apps, and revoke access to individual devices as needed.

Organizations can also now define mobile policies such as password requirements and roaming sync preferences on a granular basis by user group.

Also available today, administrators have the ability to gain insights into mobile productivity within their organizations, complete with trends and analytics.”

Gradual Enhancements

Google gradually has enhanced its MDM functionality for Google Apps. In the summer of 2010, the company announced several basic MDM controls for Google Apps, and today’s announcement adds to those capabilities.

Addressing the bring-your-own device (BYOD) phenomenon and the larger theme of consumerization of IT amid proliferating enterprise mobility, Google appears to be getting into the heterogeneous (not just Android) MDM space as a means of retaining current Google Apps business subscribers and attracting new ones.

Means Rather Than End

At least for now, Google is offering its MDM services at no charge to Google Apps business subscribers. That suggests Google sees MDM as a means of providing support for Google Apps rather than as a lucrative market in its own right. Google isn’t trying to crush standalone MDM vendors. Instead, its goal seems to be to preclude Microsoft, and perhaps even Apple, from making mobile inroads against Google Apps.

Of course, many VC-funded MDM vendors do see a lucrative market in what they do, and they might be concerned about Google’s encroachment on their turf. Officially, they’ll doubtless contend that Google is offering a limited range of MDM functionality exclusively on its Google Apps platform. They might also point out that Google, at least for now, isn’t offering support for RIM BlackBerry devices. On those counts, strictly speaking, they’d be right.

Nonetheless, many Google Apps subscribers might feel that the MDM services Google provides, even without further enhancements, are good enough for their purposes. If that happens, it will cut into the revenue and profitability of standalone MDM vendors.

Not Worrying About RIM

Those vendors will still have an MDM market beyond the Google Apps universe in which to play, but one wonders whether Microsoft, in defense of its expansive Office and Office 365 territory, might follow Google’s lead. Apple, which derives so much of its revenue from its iOS-based devices and comparatively little from Internet advertising or personal-productivity applications, would seem less inclined to embrace heterogeneous mobile-device management.

Finally, there’s the question of RIM. As mentioned above, Google has not indicated MDM support for RIM’s BlackBerry devices, whether of the legacy variety or the forthcoming BBX vintage. Larry Dignan at ZDNet thinks Google has jolted RIM’s MDM aspirations, but I think that’s an incidental rather than desired outcome. The sad fact is, I don’t think Google spends many cycles worrying about RIM.

With Latest Moves, HP Networking Responds to Customers, Partners, Competitors

Although media briefings took place yesterday in New York, HP officially announced new networking  products and services this morning based on its HP FlexNetwork Architecture.

Bethany Mayer, senior VP and general manager of HP Networking, launched proceedings yesterday, explaining that changing and growing requirements, including a shift toward server-to-server traffic (“east-west” traffic flows driven by inexorable virtualization) and the need for greater bandwidth, are overwhelming today’s networks. Datacenter networks aren’t keeping pace, bandwidth capacity in branch offices isn’t where it needs to be, there is limited support for third-party virtualized appliances, and networks are straining to accommodate the proliferation of mobile devices.

Quoting numbers from the Dell’Oro Group, Mayer said HP continues to take market share from Cisco in switching, with HP gaining share of about 3.8 percent and Cisco dropping about 6.5 percent. What’s more, Mayer cited data from analyst firm Robert W. Baird. indicating that 75 percent of enterprise-network purchase discussions involve HP. Apparently Baird also found that HP is influencing terms or winning deals about 33 percent of the time.

The Big Picture

Saar Gillai, vice president of HP’s Advanced Technology Group and CTO of HP Networking, followed with a presentation on HP Networking’s vision. Major trends he cited are virtualization, cloud computing, consumerization of IT, mobility, and unified communications. Challenges that accompany these trends include complexity, management, security, time to service, and cost.

In summary, Gillai said that the networks installed at customer sites today just weren’t designed to address the challenges they’re facing. To reinforce that point, Gillai provided a brief history of enterprise application delivery that took us from the 60s, when we had mainframes, through the client-server era and the Web-based applications of the 90s through to today’s burgeoning cloud environments.

He explained that enterprise networks have evolved along with their application delivery models.  Before, they were relatively static (serving employees onsite, for the most part), with well-defined perimeters and applications that were limited qualitatively and quantitatively. Today, though, enterprise networks must accommodate not only connected employees, but also connected customers, partners, contractors, and suppliers. The perimeter is fragmented, the network distributed, the applications mobile (even in the data center with virtualization), client devices (such as smartphones and tablets) proliferating, and wireless LANs, the public cloud and the Internet also prominently in the picture.

Connecting Users to Services

What’s the right approach for networks to take? Gillai says HP is advancing toward delivering networks that focus on connecting users to the services they need rather than on managing infrastructure. HP’s vision of enterprise-network architecture conceives of a pool of virtualized resources where managing and provisioning are done.  This network has a top layer of management/provisioning, a layer below inhabited by a control plane, and then a layer below that one comprising physical network infrastructure. In that regard, Gillai drew an analogy with server virtualization, with the control plane functioning as an abstraction layer.

With talk of a management layer sitting above a control plane that rides atop physical infrastructure, the HP vision seems strikingly similar to the defining principles of software-defined networking as realized through the OpenFlow protocol.

OpenFlow: It’s About the Applications

On OpenFlow, however, Gillai was guardedly optimistic, if not a little ambiguous. Although noting that HP has been an early proponent of OpenFlow and that the company sees promise in the technology, Gillai said the critical factor to OpenFlow’s success will be determined by the applications that run on it. HP is interested in those applications, but is less interested in the OpenFlow controller, which it does not see as a point of differentiation.

Gillai is of the opinion that the OpenFlow hype has moved considerably ahead of its current reality. He said OpenFlow, as a specific means of enabling software-defined networking, is evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary. He also said considerable work remains to be done before OpenFlow will be suitable for the enterprise market. Among the issues that need to be resolved, according to Gillai, is support for IPv6 and the “routing problem” of having a number of controllers communicate with each other.

On the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), the private non-profit organization whose first goal is to create a switching ecosystem to support the OpenFlow interface, Gillai suggested that the founding and board members — comprising Deutsche Telekom, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Verizon, and Yahoo — have a clear vision of what they want OpenFlow to achieve.

“If the network could become programmable, their life will be great,” Gillai said of the ONF founders, all of whom are service providers with vast data centers.

Despite Gillai’s reservations about OpenFlow hype, he indicated that he believes “interesting applications” for it should begin emerging within the next 12 to 24 months. He also said that it “would not be big surprise” if HP were to leverage OpenFlow for forthcoming control-plane technology.

ToR Switch for the Data Center

As for the products and services announced, let’s begin in the data center, seen by all the major networking vendors as a lucrative growth market as well as venue for increasingly intense competition.

HP FlexFabric solutions for the data center include the new 10-GbE HP 5900 top-of-rack (ToR) switch and the updated HP 12500 switch series.

HP says the new HP 5900 series of 10-GbE ToR switches provides up to 300 percent greater network scalability while reducing the the number of logical devices in the server access layer by 50 percent, thereby decreasing total cost of ownership by 50 percent.

Lead Time and Changes to Product Naming

The switch is powered by the HP Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF), which allows four HP 5900 switches to be virtualized so that they can operate as a single switch. The HP 5900 top-of-rack switch series is expected to be available in Q1 2012 in the United States with a starting list price of $38,000.

It bears noting that HP typically refrains from announcing switches this far ahead of release data. That it has announced the HP 5900 ToR switch six months before it will ship would appear to suggest both that customers are clamoring for a ToR switch and also that competitors have been exploiting the absence of such a switch in HP’s product portfolio. Although the 5900 isn’t ready to ship today, HP wants the world to know it’s coming soon.

HP says its HP 12500 switch series benefits from improved network resiliency and performance  as a result of  the addition of the updated HP IRF technology. The switch provides full IPv6 support, and HP says it doubles throughput and reduces network recovery time by more than 500 times. The HP 10500 campus core switch is available now worldwide starting at $38,000.

You might have noticed, incidentally, something different about the naming convention associated with new HP switches. HP has decided that, as of new, its networking products will just have numbers rather than alphabetical prefixes followed by numbers. This has been done to simplify matters, for HP and for its customers.

FlexCampus Moves 

On the campus front, new HP FlexCampus offerings include the HP 3800 stackable switches, which HP says provide up to 450 percent higher performance. HP also is offering a new reference architecture for campus environments that unifies wired and wireless networks to support mobility and high-bandwidth multimedia applications. The HP 3800 line of switches is available now worldwide starting at $4,969.

Although HP did not say it, at least one of its primary competitors has cited a lack of HP reference architectures for customers, particularly for campus environments. HP clearly is responding.

HP also unveiled virtualized services modules for the HP 5400zl and 8200zl switches, which it claims are the first in the industry to converge blade servers at the branch into a network infrastructure capable of hosting multiple applications and services. The company claims its HP Advanced Services zl Module with VMware vSphere 5 and HP Advanced Services zl Module with Citrix XenServer deliver a 57-percent cut in power consumption and a 43-percent reduction in space relative to competing products. Available now worldwide, the vSphere HP Advanced Series zl Module with VMware vSphere 5 (including support and subscription, 8GB of RAM) starts at $5,299. The HP Advanced Services zl Module with Citrix XenServer (including support and subscription, 4GB of RAM) starts at $4,499.

Emphasis on Simplicity and Evolution

HP also rolled out HP FlexManagement with integrated mobile network access control (NAC) in HP Intelligent Management Center (IMV) 5.1 to streamline enterprise access for mobile devices and to protect against mobile-application threats. HP Intelligent Management Center 5.1 is expected to be available in Q1 2012 with a list price of $6,995.

Also introduced are new services to facilitate migration to IPv6 and new financing to allow HP’s U.S-based channel partners to lease HP Networking products as demonstration equipment.

Key words associated with this slate of HP Networking announcements were “evolutionary” and “simplification.” As the substance and tone of the announcements suggest, HP Networking is responding to its customers and partners — and also to its competitors — closing gaps in its portfolio and looking to position itself to achieve further market-share gains.

Intel-Microsoft Mobile Split All Business

In an announcement today, Google and Intel said they would work together to optimize future versions of the  Android operating system for smartphones and other mobile devices powered by Intel chips.

It makes good business sense.

Pursuit of Mobile Growth

Much has been made of alleged strains in the relationship between the progenitors of Wintel — Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Intel’s microprocessors — but business partnerships are not affairs of the heart; they’re always pragmatic and results oriented. In this case, each company is seeking growth and pursuing its respective interests.

I don’t believe there’s any malice between Intel and Microsoft. The two companies will combine on the desktop again in early 2012, when Microsoft’s Windows 8 reaches market on PCs powered by Intel’s chips as well as on systems running the ARM architecture.

Put simply, Intel must pursue growth in mobile markets and data centers. Microsoft must similarly find partners that advance its interests.  Where their interests converge, they’ll work together; where their interests diverge, they’ll go in other directions.

Just Business

In PCs, the Wintel tandem was and remains a powerful industry standard. In mobile devices, Intel is well behind ARM in processors, while Microsoft is well behind Google and Apple in mobile operating systems. It makes sense that Intel would want to align with a mobile industry leader in Google, and that Microsoft would want to do likewise with ARM. A combination of Microsoft and Intel in mobile computing would amount to two also-rans combining to form . . . well, two also-rans in mobile computing.

So, with Intel and Microsoft, as with all alliances in the technology industry, it’s always helpful to remember the words of Don Lucchesi in The Godfather: Part III: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

Limits to Consumerization of IT

At GigaOm, Derrick Harris is wondering about the limits of consumerization of IT for enterprise applications. It’s a subject that warrants consideration.

My take on consumerization of IT is that it makes sense, and probably is an unstoppable force, when it comes to the utilization of mobile hardware such as smartphones and tablets (the latter composed primarily and almost exclusively of iPads these days).

This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Employees are happier, not to mention more productive and engaged, when using their own computing and communications devices. Employers benefit because they don’t have to buy and support mobile devices for their staff.  Both groups win.

Everybody Wins

Moreover, mobile device management (MDM) and mobile-security suites, together with various approaches to securing applications and data, mean that the security risks of allowing employees to bring their devices to work have been sharply mitigated. In relation to mobile devices, the organizational rewards of IT consumerization — greater employee productivity, engaged and involved employees, lower capital and operating expenditures — outweigh the security risks, which are being addressed by a growing number of management and security vendors who see a market opportunity in making the practice safer.

In other areas, though, the case in favor of IT consumerization is not as clear. In his piece, Harris questions whether VMware will be successful with a Dropbox-like application codenamed Project Octopus. He concludes that those already using Dropbox will be reluctant to swap it for a an enterprise-sanctioned service that provides similar features, functionality, and benefits. He posits that consumers will want to control the applications and services they use, much as they determine which devices they bring to work.

Data and Applications: Different Proposition

However, the circumstances and the situations are different. As noted above, there’s diminishing risk for enterprise IT in allowing employees to bring their devices to work.  Dropbox, and consumer-oriented data-storage services in general, is an entirely different proposition.

Enterprises increasingly have found ways to protect sensitive corporate data residing on and being sent to and from mobile devices, but consumer-oriented products like Dropbox do an end run around secure information-management practices in the enterprises and can leave sensitive corporate information unduly exposed. The enterprise cost-benefit analysis for a third-party service like Dropbox shows risks outweighing potential rewards, and that sets up a dynamic where many corporate IT departments will mandate and insist upon company-wide adoption of enterprise-class alternatives.

Just as I understand why corporate minders acceded to consumerization of IT in relation to mobile devices, I also fully appreciate why corporate IT will draw the line at certain types of consumer-oriented applications and information services.

Consumerization of IT is a real phenomenon, but it has its limits.