Networking Complexity Creates Channel Benefits, ChallengesBy Michael Vizard | Print
There is a wealth of new, emerging networking technologies to sell, but their complexity could pose challenges to the channel.
When it comes to networking, it's both the best and worst of times for the channel. Whether it's making the move to 10 Gigabit or 40 Gigabit Ethernet routers and switches or taking on the challenges of software-defined networking (SDN), the wealth of networking options has never been greater.
However, those emerging technologies bring with them a fair amount of complexity. That means more things can go wrong; it also means that a spike in support calls can eat into the bottom line of the solution provider called on to fix any number of issues.
For that reason, network monitoring in 2014 is going to be both an opportunity to sell a service—and an act of self-preservation on the part of the solution provider.
"There's about to be a huge increase in the size and scale of the network," said John Gill, vice president of sales for the Americas at Network Critical, a provider of network-monitoring tools. "You can't load-balance a 10G Ethernet network using 1G Ethernet tools."
In fact, the expected increase in demand for next-generation network-monitoring tools is what helped drive the recent acquisition of Net Optics by Ixia, which offers a suite of networking tools that will now be expanded to include technology from Net Optics for monitoring networks within the data center.
"One of things that differentiate us is that we developed a virtual software tap," said Bob Shaw, who leads Ixia's Net Optics business unit. "Other network-monitoring tools don't provide access into that inter-virtual machine traffic."
That inter-virtual machine traffic is both a blessing and a curse. Virtualization on the whole has increased server utilization. But each virtual machine has its own embedded virtual switch. And now that virtualization is being extended to create network virtualization overlays, it is easier to pool virtual machine resources across multiple machines.
Add to that SDN software intended to make it easier to manage the network at a higher level of abstraction and the recent introduction of virtual routing software, and it quickly becomes apparent just how advanced and complicated networking has become.
There are, of course, no shortage of competing networking architectures; starting with proprietary networks from Cisco to equally proprietary virtual networks being promulgated by VMware and Microsoft. Of course, OpenFlow as an emerging open network controller standard, the open-source Project OpenDaylight SDN effort and the OpenStack management framework are collectively supposed to provide a counter balance to those proprietary technologies. But those fledgling efforts don't have nearly the networking market share that Cisco and VMware command.
In the meantime, rather than getting caught up in all that network in-fighting, some vendors such as Dell are adopting networking product strategies that are compatible with all the leading networking architectures.
"We support everything from legacy APIs such as onePK from Cisco, to the OpenFlow standard being put forth by the networking purist camp," said Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product management of Dell Networking.
Most solution providers are likely to find themselves in a similar position. Rather than having the luxury of only supporting one networking architecture, most solution providers are going to be working with multiple customers relying on rival network architectures through most of the rest of this decade. Unlike Dell, however, the average solution provider in the channel is not likely to have the engineering depth needed to master the multitude of networking options.
As such, delivering networking-monitoring services represents an opportunity to reduce support costs and add value across multiple networking architectures, while at the same time providing the ideal vantage point from which to keep an eye on which way the prevailing network architecture wind is blowing—now and in the future.
Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.