All Aboard the Application Train!

It’s been an interesting week so far… and it’s only Wednesday. In just a little over a day and a half, we’ve had hundreds of people stop by our booth at Cisco Live! and I wanted to share a few observations from those interactions:

  1. A significant number of people still do not know or understand much about SDN. This isn’t surprising and further underscores the disservice vendors have done at creating confusion that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.
  2. When you talk about an application-centric approach to networking and network service automation, people get interested very fast, even when they are not building or using a cloud.
  3. Everyone is asking for examples of real use cases and deployments to help them determine which vendors they should engage/invest their time.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that networkers aren’t that familiar with software. Given that Cisco is talking a little more about software and software-defined networking these days, that’ll probably change by this time next year. In fact, Cisco spent much of Wednesday morning outlining its “vision” for application-centric infrastructure. From my perspective it’s a great thing to have Cisco promote the concept we’ve been pushing for a of years now.

But there’s still something missing. Cisco, PLUMgrid – which came out of stealth mode this week – and the rest of the networking industry agree in principle that it’s all about the application, but they don’t actually have the network services functions (load balancers, firewalls, VPNs, etc.) to support applications in a multi-tenant, agile way.  And that is an area that can’t be ignored.

Customers came to our booth after hearing about the application-centric concept because we actually have a product that delivers an application-centric networking solution. Case-in-point – with the proliferation of applications in enterprise data centers, the networking team (at least virtually everyone we’ve spoken with so far) would love a way to automate the delivery of firewalls and other network service appliances on a per application basis. That is, as long as it doesn’t become a management nightmare.

They are tired of dealing with rules sprawl due to the fact that hardware firewalls are inevitably shared across multiple applications. When they learn they can not only create and configure firewalls in minutes AND dedicate that firewall to an application without adding management complexity, we get their attention. This is a real problem and use case today. It’s great to see a shared vision in the industry, and we are pleased to be at the forefront of the transition. And, when you can walk people through how you can evolve that application-centric approach to firewalls to include other network services, they’re sold.

There is a ton of great dialogue happening in the networking space – that’s clear here at the show for sure. It’s fun to be in networking. It’s cool again. But what I think is important is that we focus most of our attention on the use cases and the pain we’re trying to solve for our customers. Real-life customer use cases and implementations showing how a new application-centric approach to networking (or infrastructure) is a working strategy. That’s clear from our conversations at the booth and I’m sure it will be even clearer when we leave Florida at the end of the week.

All aboard the application train folks! It’s going to be a hell of a ride.

John Vincenzo