Rethinking the Network

Michael Bushong

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Where the Puck Is Going: Analytics

The current dialogue is all about software-defined everything

Sports fan strategists like to throw around the famous Wayne Gretzky quote: I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. The corporate implications of the quote are self-evident: plot your strategic course to where you think the market is going. Setting your sights based primarily on the current State of the Union is a surefire way to get passed in high tech.

So where is the puck going to be?

The current dialogue is all about software-defined everything. A couple of years ago, it was all about OpenFlow. This year, the conversation broadened somewhat to include SDN more generally. And based on all the activity on the controller front, 2014 will most certainly be about the point of control. Companies that are setting their strategic agendas now need to be playing past all of these trends.

A major tenet of SDN is the separation of control and data planes with the idea that a global view allows intelligent management of the network as a resource. Put differently, it’s great to be able to program flows and steer traffic, but the question that needs to be answered is: To what end? While the early SDN use cases might include manual triggers (I want to do this, so the network should do that), the real long-term value of SDN simply has to extend beyond explicitly specifying network behavior. If all we have done is move provisioning to a different point in the network, we are really just swapping our CLIs for a different interface.

The future will absolutely be about harvesting information from the IT environment at large and using that information to make intelligent decisions. It will be critical that controllers have the ability to integrate analytics capabilities into their core set of functionality. And if the world is moving towards orchestrating application workloads across all of compute, storage, and networking, those analytics capabilities had better extend beyond mere networking statistics and counters.

Now most of this should not be surprising. But if you believe that analytics will become increasingly important, there are some strategic implications.

First, analytics companies ought to be tripping over each other racing to be involved in the major controller efforts, be they open source or proprietary. The market will most certainly settle on two or three major control platforms, with the rest of the players fighting over the scraps. Those control platforms could certainly treat analytics as plugins, providing some standard APIs so that any analytics framework can work with the controller. But if you are an analytics company, wouldn’t you rather become the de facto standard for one or more of these install bases?

This means that companies like Splunk, Guavus, SolarWinds, Boundary, NetScout, and whoever else ought to be actively working with groups like OpenDaylight, VMWare (NSX), and the rest. I wouldn’t be surprised to see memberships and partnerships expand in 2014 to include more of these types of companies. Inclusion at the point of control would expand their potential sales base, allowing these companies to sell to whoever has a particular controller installed.

It seems unlikely that a single analytics vendor will corner the entire point of control market. Membership or partnership requires effort, and it would be difficult even without competition to commit to multiple points of control with equal ferocity. This means that the various solutions will likely align with various points of control. You might see one company take the lead on OpenDaylight, another partner with VMWare, and still another insert into FloodLight or OpenContrail.

These alliances will then make the M&A environment very interesting. What happens if someone like Cisco (part of OpenDaylight, pursuing their ONE controller, and with loads of cash on hand) sets their sights on one of these? You could see consolidation in the space, which would drive up the value of the remaining players. If you are in that third tier of control points, what happens if your analytics partner of choice is suddenly being courted by someone else?

This also raises an interesting point on the customer side. Monitoring, billing, reporting, auditing, and troubleshooting are all quite dependent on analytics. These also extend beyond the physical infrastructure and touch all of the surrounding systems and people. Because infrastructure and analytics are currently acquired and deployed separately from infrastructure, customers can have dual loyalties. But if there is consolidation in the space, to what extent will these peripherals influence infrastructure buys? And if the future is data-driven, do these remain as peripherals or do they become core parts of the solution?

I don’t expect any changes imminently. Generally, our industry tends to look at things like analytics well after the fact. It wouldn’t surprise me if it took another year before this type of stuff becomes mainstream enough that it is a core part of anyone’s strategies. But for the companies out there that fancy themselves to be Gretzky-esque – both vendors and customers – it might be worth devoting a bit more time to this now.

[Today's fun fact: An alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. You would think the alligator orthodontic market would be a bit more hotly contested.]

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The best marketing efforts leverage deep technology understanding with a highly-approachable means of communicating. Plexxi's Vice President of Marketing Michael Bushong has acquired these skills having spent 12 years at Juniper Networks where he led product management, product strategy and product marketing organizations for Juniper's flagship operating system, Junos. Michael spent the last several years at Juniper leading their SDN efforts across both service provider and enterprise markets. Prior to Juniper, Michael spent time at database supplier Sybase, and ASIC design tool companies Synopsis and Magma Design Automation. Michael's undergraduate work at the University of California Berkeley in advanced fluid mechanics and heat transfer lend new meaning to the marketing phrase "This isn't rocket science."