Daily Archives: August 9, 2011

Nokia Channels Kris Kristofferson

In reporting that Nokia would discontinue North American sales of its Symbian smartphones and its low-end feature phones to focus exclusively on its forthcoming crop of smartphones based on Windows Phone, Ina Fried of All Things Digital broke some news that didn’t qualify as a surprise.

If Kris Kristofferson was right when he said that “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,” then Nokia has a lot of freedom in the North American smartphone market.

The Finnish handset vendor, which began its corporate life as a paper manufacturer, wasn’t going anywhere with its Symbian-based smartphones in the USA or Canada. What’s more, North Americans have been turning away from feature phones for a while now.  Accordingly, Nokia has chosen to clear the decks, eliminate distractions, and put all its resources behind its bet-the-company commitment to Windows Phone.

Nothing to Lose

It’ll keep Symbian and the feature phones around for a while longer in other international markets, but not in North America. And, you know, it makes sense.

If Nokia wins even a modicum of business with its Microsoft-powered smarphones, it will gain share in North America. From that standpoint, it has something to gain, and very little to lose, as it debuts its Windows Phone handsets in the North American market. Nokia doesn’t need to hit a home run to spin its Windows Phone as a success here. All it needs to do is show market momentum on which can build in other markets, including those where it truly does have more to lose.

Obviously, Nokia’s success should not be taken for granted. The company has a long, potholed road ahead of it, and there’s no guarantee that it will survive the journey.

Battle for Hearts and Minds

While some observers are saying the carriers will be crucial to Nokia’s smartphone success — the Finnish handset vendor will make its phones available through operators rather than selling them unlocked at retail — I disagree.

Once upon a time, mobile subscribers took the handsets that carriers pushed at them, but that hasn’t been the norm since Apple radically rearranged the smartphone landscape with the iPhone. Now, consumer demand determines which handsets wireless operators carry, and Nokia doubtless recognizes that reality, which is why it intends to launch a massive advertising and marketing campaign to persuade consumers that its smartphones are desirable, must-have items.

Low Expectations

Will it work? Hey, ask Nostradamus if you can reach him with a medium and a Ouija board. All I can tell you is that Nokia will have to nail its advertising campaign, hit the bull’s eye with its marketing programs, and work diligently in conjunction with Microsoft to attract the attention and support of mobile developers. Great phone designs, slick marketing, a credible mobile operating system (which Microsoft might finally have), and quality and quantity of application support will be essential if Nokia is to resuscitate its reputation as a serious smartphone player.

A lot can go wrong, and some of it probably will.

It’s not going to be easy, but the one thing Nokia has going for it in North America is low expectations. That’s why I think Nokia picked the continent as a potential springboard for its Windows Phone onslaught worldwide.

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Prescribing Dell’s Next Networking Move

Now that it has announced its acquisition of Force10 Networks, Dell is poised to make its next networking move.

Should that be another acquisition? No, I don’t think so. Dell needs time to integrate and assimilate Force10 before it considers another networking acquisition. Indeed, I think integration, not just of Force10, is the key to understanding what Dell ought to do next.

One problem, certainly for some of Dell’s biggest data-center customers, is that networking has been its own silo, relatively unaffected by the broad sweep of virtualization. While server hardware has been virtualized comprehensively — resulting in significant cost savings for data centers — and storage is now following suit, switches and routers have remained vertically integrated, comparatively proprietary boxes, largely insulated from the winds of change.

Dell and OpenStack

Perhaps because it is so eager to win cloud business — seeing the cloud not only as the next big thing but also as the ultimate destination for many SMB applications — Dell has been extremely solicitous in attempting to address the requirements flagged by the likes of Rackspace, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. Dell sees these customers as big public-cloud purveyors (which they are), but also as early adopters of data-center solutions that could be offered subsequently to other cloud-oriented service providers and large enterprises.

That’s why Dell has been such a big proponent of OpenStack.  A longtime member of the OpenStack community, Dell recently introduced the Dell OpenStack Cloud Solution,  which includes the OpenStack cloud operating system, Dell PowerEdge C servers, the Dell-developed “Crowbar” OpenStack installer, plus services from Dell and Rackspace Cloud Builders.

The rollout of the Dell OpenStack Cloud Solution is intended to make it easy for cloud purveyors and large enterprises  to adopt and deploy open-source infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Promise of OpenFlow

Interestingly, many of the same cloud and service providers that see promise in heavily virtualized, open-source IaaS technologies, as represented by OpenStack, also see considerable potential in OpenFlow, a protocol that allows a switch data plane to be programmed directly by a separate flow controller. Until now,  the data plane and the control plane have existed in the same switch hardware. OpenFlow removes control-plane responsibilities from the switch and places them in software that can run elsewhere, presumably on an industry-standard server (or on a cluster of servers).

OpenFlow is one means of realizing software-defined networking, which holds the promise of making network infrastructure programmable and virtualized.

Some vendors already have perceived merit in the data-center combination of OpenStack and OpenFlow. Earlier this year in a blog post, Brocade Communications’ CTO Dave Stevens and Ken Cheng, VP of service provider products, wrote the following about the joint value of OpenStack and OpenFlow:

 “There are now two promising industry efforts that go a long way in promoting industry-wide interoperability and open architectures for both virtualization and cloud computing. Specifically, they are the OpenFlow initiative driven by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which is hosted by Stanford University with 17 member companies currently, and theOpenStack cloud software project backed by a consortium of more than 50 private and public sector organisations.

We won’t belabor the charters and goals of either initiative as that information is widely available and listed in detail on both Web sites. The key idea we want to convey from Brocade’s point of view is that OpenFlow and OpenStack should not be regarded as discrete, unrelated projects. Indeed, we view them as three legs of a stool with OpenFlow serving as the networking leg while OpenStack serves as the other two legs through its compute and object storage software projects. Only by working together can these industry initiatives truly enable customers to virtualize their physical network assets and migrate smoothly to open, highly interoperable cloud architectures.”

Much in Common

Indeed, the architectural, philosophical, and technological foundations of OpenFlow and OpenStack have much in common. They also deliver similar business benefits for cloud shops and large data centers, which could run their programmable, virtualized infrastructure (servers, storage, and networking) on industry-standard hardware.

Large cloud providers are understandably motivated to want to see the potential of OpenFlow and OpenStack come to fruition. Both provide the promise of substantial cost savings, not only capex but also opex. There’s more to both than cost savings, of course, but the cost savings alone could provide ROI justification for many prospective customers.

That’s something Dell, now the proud owner of Force10 Networks, ought to be considering. Dell has been quick to point out that its networking acquisition now gives it the converged infrastructure for data centers that Cisco and HP already had. Still, even if we accept that argument at face value, Dell is at a disadvantage facing those vendors in a proprietary game on a level playing field. Both Cisco and HP have bigger, stronger networking assets, and both have more marketing, sales, and technological resources at their disposal. Unless it changes the game, Dell has little chance of winning.

Changing the Game

So, how can Dell change the game? It could become the converged infrastructure player that wholeheartedly embraces OpenStack and OpenFlow, following the lead its data-center customers have provided while also leading them to new possibilities.

I realize that the braintrust at Force10 recently took a wait-and-see stance toward OpenFlow. However, now that Dell owns Force10, that position should be reviewed in a new, larger context.

Given that Dell reportedly passed over Brocade on its way to the altar with Force10, it would be ironic if Dell were to execute on an OpenStack-OpenFlow vision that Brocade eloquently articulated.

HP’s Extreme Rumor

There’s a rumor making the rounds that HP might be interested in acquiring Extreme Networks.

It’s easy to understand why Extreme would be willing to sell, but it’s less obvious as to why HP would want to buy. Still, this rumor has intensified recently, and one would be remiss not to at least deal with it.

Unless something is wrong at HP Networking, I don’t see HP making this deal. While there are differing interpretations as to why HP acquired 3Com (H3C) back in 2009, the fact remains that HP now offers a relatively extensive array of networking gear from its 3Com acquisition and from its preexisting HP ProCurve product portfolio. The combined offerings now run the gamut, from branch-office and campus offerings to data-center switches.

At least nominally, HP has the networking bases covered, though some could contend (and have done so) that HP Networking might want to consider unifying its product portfolio under a single network operating system, most likely Comware.

Considering that HP arguably hasn’t finished integrating its networking operations, and also taking into account that HP already has an extensive networking portfolio, what could be the motivation, if any, for a rumored acquisition of Extreme Networks?

Maybe there’s nothing to this rumor, and HP has no motivation to acquire Extreme. If so, that puts the story to bed. If HP does make an Extreme move, though, questions will be asked, and rightly so.