Tales from the Road

As I reflect on the myriad of conversations I had over the past few weeks, (most with network admins of leading enterprise and service provider customers), there is a consistent theme that has emerged and is worth sharing. Immediacy, agility, and granular control are terms, desired concepts really, that I hear over and over again and frankly seemed to hold more importance than any other topic.  A great example of this came at the end of the second day keynote panel at World Wide Technology’s (WWT) 8th annual Geek Day event. The last question an attendee asked the panel of leading technology CIO’s: If you had one dollar to spend on IT where would you spend it? Half of the panelists answered, “network agility”.  

I came to Embrane via a leading cloud service provider and I was looking to validate the idea that speed in IT was as, if not more, important on the networking side of the fence as it was on the server and storage side.  After three months in the chair, without question, I can confirm that the “network guys” continue to  keep up at cloud speed or to match the pace of “consumerization of IT” movement without having to completely gut their current network architectures or disrupt the operational model and talent they have employed for years.

The CIO as a Service Provider movement is real today and if technology suppliers cannot keep pace they will be left behind. The needs of the CIO in an IT as a service provider are dramatically different than what used to be required in a traditional IT environment. If the suppliers can deliver agile solutions, there is a far worse impact on the CIO. Users will opt to find ways around IT, creating a shadow IT nightmare that will inevitably leave an organization out of compliance, will lack QoS, have limited, if any, budget controls, or all of the above.  

Specific to networking, I see too many of the incumbent networking competitors profess to be facilitators of the CIO as service provider concept. They say all the right things and they have masterful slide decks that illustrate a great strategy and solutions to come. But, when you dig past the marketing messages they don’t provide solutions for the real challenges today’s CIOs are facing. They can’t deliver network services in minutes (it still takes days or weeks); they do not provide tools to non disruptively scale services up or down in seconds (still port driven and very rigid); and they typically lack the ability to tag, bill and charge back to a specific department, application, workload or even user.  One of, if not the primary challenges of the incumbents is that they are trying to solve (assuming there is actually a pain point) the Layer 2 problem that necessitates significant infrastructure and operational change. This is a much about defending the physical fabric as much as it is about solving real world problems.

Embrane addresses the need for agility at layers 3-7. Think SDN services or SDNS. There are a select few vendors that are slowly making progress in the right direction, but they are still presenting these solutions as technology refresh options that will require significant time, expense (six or seven figures per box) and resources to implement (months, years, not hours). I won’t even get into the fact that this era of IT requires new and innovative licensing and billing options. Even if a company can offer some level of agility, offering a pay-as-you-go, or subscription-based pricing isn’t in their DNA. Plus, any changes to the capacity above the license level they purchased (which, by the way, are mapped to the vendor’s needs, not the customer’s) require a new license key. That is a licensing nightmare. Any savings they get from the agility upgrade is lost to operational complexity and cost.

Now, I’m in no way, shape or form suggesting that hardware-based networking is doomed or that the incumbents will not eventually catch up and become more nimble.  What I am suggesting is that many of those players are behind the curve to meet the demands and pain of their customers TODAY! And this is not only a technical discussion, but as if not more important it’s a business model discussion. The days of the buy-ahead business model is dying right before our eyes. It’s no longer enterprise software, it’s SaaS.  It’s not a big box full of CPU and RAM, it’s Amazon.  And it no longer has to be the six or seven figure network device to deliver agile network services, it’s Embrane!  The “network guys” want services in minutes, changes and scaling in seconds, want and need to know who is using what when and pay for only that usage. This is what true SDNS means. This is what Embrane delivers. 

Jon Beck