The network was once an IT resource to which few business leaders paid attention. Most considered the network to be the “pipes” or the “plumbing” of a company and thought of it as a commodity. That opinion has been changing, because the network has rapidly increased in importance as digital transformation has taken hold in the business world.
The building blocks of digital are technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, internet of things and artificial intelligence, all of which are network-centric. This means as business becomes more digital, the network increases in strategic value.
The network vendors have responded to this challenge, and recently there has been a flurry of news from this community. I covered some of the major announcements in my most recent ZKast video podcast, done in conjunction with eWEEK (see image above). Highlights follow.
Cisco Systems expands its SD-WAN portfolio
Last October Cisco Systems introduced the Catalyst 8000 family of Edge platforms as an upgrade from its widely adopted Integrated Services Routers and Aggregation Services Routers (ISR/ASR). The initial release included three platforms that included a high-end data center/colo router, one designed for branch offices and a software-based version for virtual deployments. Recently, it added four more products to the family to round out the product line.
The 8500L is aimed at entry 1-Gig/10-Gig aggregation use cases, the 8200 is targeted at branch offices and the new 8200 uCPE for small-and-lean branch locations. Rounding out the line is Catalyst 5G cellular gateway for high-speed wireless connectivity. The seven-branch routers create a tremendous amount of flexibility for customers.
This may seem like a lot of hardware in a world where software-defined is the norm. The reality is businesses have connectivity needs for a wide range of locations, and SD-WAN performance can suffer if the underlying hardware can’t support the network needs. This is particularly true for security where the processing needs of encryption, NAT and other features can cripple an underpowered edge device. Also, not all businesses are ready to or want to move all of their security capabilities to the cloud. In large locations, it makes sense to have local resources. The Cisco Catalyst 8000 line lets customers architect a WAN any way they want to but ensure the best possible performance.
Extreme Networks handily beats its quarterly expectations
Extreme Networks recently held its quarterly investor call and announced its second-quarter preliminary results. The company reported revenue in the range of $238 million to $248 million, the midpoint of which ($243 million) is well ahead of the Street’s expectation of $240 million. The “beat” is certainly noteworthy, but the reason why it is seeing increased strength is the real news.
Extreme recently announced its Universal Hardware Platform which untethers the underlying hardware from software features. Most network vendors typically have multiple product lines designed for different use cases. Universal Hardware Platform enables customers to purchase hardware and then select the software load that makes the most sense. For example, Extreme’s 5520 Series Universal Switch can run either the ExtremeXOS or VOSS operating system, each designed for different use cases. The secret sauce for Extreme is its ExtremeCloud IQ cloud management platform that brings cloud level flexibility to networking.
Extreme remains the most undervalued network vendor. Several years ago, Extreme was fast-tracking to irrelevancy, but then a new management team, led by CEO Ed Meyercord and COO Norman Rice, executed a plan to roll up other network assets, including Avaya Networking, Brocade’s Data Center Business, Aerohive and the WiFi business from Zebra. It then had to bring these assets together into a comprehensive portfolio resulting in Universal Hardware.
The company has quietly been executing and growing. In fact, the analysts at 650 Group recently found that, of the top four vendors in cloud-managed networking, Extreme has experienced the largest increase in market share while others are down or, at best, staying flat.
Juniper Networks showing strength in enterprise
Juniper Networks also recently announced its quarterly earnings. For the quarter, it posted revenues of $1.22 billion, slightly ahead of its previous estimate of $1.19 billion. As with Extreme, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. A closer look reveals that cloud revenue was up slightly over a year ago, while service provider revenue slipped 3.6%. The most intriguing number is that enterprise revenues were up 7.1%.
Most people familiar with networking know Juniper to be a service provider company, and they excel in this area. In the past, it has never managed to put together a solid, consistent enterprise strategy, but the tide appears to be changing. The catalyst for this shift was the acquisition of Mist Systems, which brought artificial intelligence capabilities into the company. Mist was founded to use AI to solve WiFi issues. Since the acquisition, Juniper has expanded Mist to manage its SD-WAN, campus and security products.
Since the Mist purchase, Juniper has made two other enterprise-focused acquisitions. 128 Technology brings session-based routing to the WAN, creating a much more efficient and smarter network than by using only network data. It also bought Apstra, the only vendor-agnostic, intent-based networking solution.
DriveNets hits unicorn status
Last week, start-up network vendor DriveNets announced a $208 million round of funding, raising its value to over $1 billion. The company has embraced disaggregation and built a pure software router that runs on white boxes. DriveNets certainly isn’t the first vendor to attempt this, but they’ve been the most successful. Evidence of this is their billion-dollar valuation, but they’ve also landed many service provider customers, including AT&T.
The topic of disaggregation certainly isn’t new, and I’ve been a skeptic for years. Not because the idea wasn’t a good one, but rather that it’s never worked. There have been a number of open-source projects and other software-only vendors that have offered similar solutions, but network engineers I talked to told me the performance wasn’t on par with traditional routers.
The problem was that regardless of how well the software is designed, there’s still a reliance on the underlying hardware. Other software-only products designed their solution to run on x86 platforms, and the off-the-shelf CPUs just didn’t have enough horsepower.
While DriveNets is a software company, it nurtures a complete white-box ecosystem. It includes certified hardware vendors, providers of merchant silicon and transceivers and system integrators. Together they deliver compelling white box-based routing solutions that are simple to deploy and easy to manage. This gives the agility of software-only with the performance of a vertically integrated solution.
DriveNets’ tagline is that it is “the future of networking,” and given they’ve solved the software-performance problem, they might very well be.