I just watched Cisco’s (NASDAQ:CSCO) John Chambers “Can IT Strengthen the Economy?” interview at the recent Gartner conference just released at ZDNet. John clearly sees innovation as the way out. The network is strategic to business productivity. Flexibility, speed and scale are becoming even more important. That means dynamic connectivity and intelligence will become critical to the network.
I think it is only a matter of time before ALL of the leading networking players start talking about the (strategic importance of the) network as a way to succeed in an uncertain economic climate. Last week, in “Cloud Computing, Virtualization and IT Diseconomies” I talked about the increasingly intense pressures already building on static network infrastructure, and the underlying need for more intelligence and automation.
These intense pressures are setting the stage for the next technology boom, by creating gaps between what networks can do today and what they’ll need to do tomorrow. I was amazed at how quickly the concept of Infrastructure2.0 spread, including an interesting discussion at F5 Network’s (NASDAQ:FFIV) pace-setting DevCentral blog.
These pressures are coming from increasing rates of change, especially in larger networks supporting more devices and branches and processes, as well as with the introduction of consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing initiatives. These new initiatives are introducing even higher rates of change and making it clear that a static network will no longer be a strategic network.
[Thanks to Rick Kagan and Stu Bailey at Infoblox for the above image.]
Across several recent articles at Archimedius I’ve talked about the increasingly costly demands of manual labor on IT, including IP address management, DNS, DHCP and a host of other core network services. I’ve talked about the importance of reachability and connectivity intelligence within the network so that solutions can learn and adapt to these new fluid systems and more powerful endpoints.
Recent Computerworld and IDC research was also cited in IT diseconomies, my lengthy tome predicting the shrinking role of manual labor in IT. I noted larger enterprises paying more for mundane, boring tasks like managing IP addresses by spreadsheet, even on a cost per IP address basis.
I’ll also go so far as to suggest who the leaders are in each required category, from endpoint intelligence (Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)), to network intelligence (Cisco) to application intelligence (F5 Networks). I inserted Infoblox as the leader in connectivity intelligence, which I see as this emerging dynamic feedback loop between systems, endpoints and networks now overly dependent upon manual labor to address rising flexibility and scale demands. (Disclaimer: I work for Infoblox.)
Managing a heterogeneous infrastructure is difficult enough, but managing a dynamic, ever changing heterogeneous infrastructure that must be stable enough to deliver dynamic applications makes the former look like a walk in the park. Part of the problem is certainly the inability to manage heterogeneous network infrastructure devices from a single management system.
– Lori MacVittie, F5 DevCentral
Who knows if standards could ever emerge between the likes of Cisco, Juniper (NYSE:JNPR), Brocade (NASDAQ:BRCD), Riverbed (NASDAQ:RVBD) and F5 Networks. Lorie is quick to point out that they have worked in the past, as with WS-I (which included Microsoft and Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), among others). A very interesting standard I mentioned previously is IF-MAP from the Trusted Computing Group™, which includes ArcSight, Aruba, Infoblox and Juniper, among others.
As the Mind requires a Nervous System; Network Intelligence requires Connectivity Intelligence
Yet I think standards will only be part of the solution, even if they are adopted. I think the critical requirement for Infrastructure2.0 will be connectivity intelligence. TCP/IP has now outgrown its static shell and is about to be tasked with connecting even more powerful and dynamic systems. Whether it’s the rise of RFID in supply chain, mobility a la Google’s Android, or even the adoption of parking meters with their own IP addresses, it is clear that TCP/IP is spreading with or without a strong economy and the most productive enterprises will be the most likely to survive.
The manual labor that has driven IP address management costs higher as networks grow larger is similarly impacting other core network services (like DNS and DHCP) that were not created to support such complex arrays of devices, branches and systems. This is the broader opportunity for Juniper, Brocade and others as well, not only to reduce network infrastructure TCO but to address the new level of flexibility enabled by virtualization and other initiatives driving new scale and flexibility requirements.
Enterprises are now on the battlefield between two competing forces, the rapid proliferation of TCP/IP and the increasingly dynamic and powerful systems and endpoints attaching to the network in order to boost productivity. Those who succeed will have invested in automation based on dynamic feedback between devices and systems and the rise in network intelligence.
Gone will be manual spreadsheets tracking IP addresses across large and ever-changing extended enterprise networks. Gone will be endless hours of overtime tied up in mundane and resource-consuming tasks. Gone will be manual pings to determine whether a network is available or secure or not.
This is the next technology boom, the era of Infratsructure2.0. Cisco is already on message. F5 is getting there and I think it is only a matter of time before the marketers at the world’s leading technology companies realize that the war is on, and all of the old alliances that enabled exclusivity and lock-in and layers of manual labor are off the table.
Out of this coming weakness will emerge new strength, possibilities and profits. As Microsoft, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) build up steam in the cloud they are creating demands for even more powerful and intelligent networks. Enterprises who see the network as tactical will take the brunt of the pain from a weak economy; those who embrace automation will be the fastest to return to normal and ultimately establish and / or maintain operational leadership.
Stock position: Long CSCO, JNPR.