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Back when most carriers were selling dumb pipes, the underlying network infrastructure they were using didn’t really matter to most IT organizations.

However, with the rise of cloud applications, latency across wide-area networks has become a primary concern, which makes the underlying network any given carrier is using a lot more relevant to customers. As a result, networking equipment providers are making a concerted effort to get IT organizations to start asking what networking equipment carriers are using to deliver WAN services.

The fundamental premise is that, given all the quality-of-service issues associated with the cloud, customers need to start demanding to know the capabilities of the underlying network equipment that carriers or cloud service providers are using.

“Studies show that 62 percent of application workloads will be moving into the cloud,” said Len LuPriore, senior manager for strategic marketing with Cisco’s Service Provider Group. “A lot of business-critical applications will be moving to service providers.”

To help carriers, specifically, and cloud service providers, in general, address that opportunity, Cisco recently launched the Cisco Network Convergence System, which is based on a Cisco nPower X1 integrated network processor that incorporates 4 billion transistors on a single chip. More importantly, Cisco NCS creates a software-defined network that is highly programmable.

IT organizations will soon demand that carriers and cloud service providers unlock the potential capabilities of their networks by exposing programming functionality in ways that will essentially create an extended enterprise network that is federated across multiple providers and data centers, LuPriore said.

That capability will be especially important to organizations that have standardized on Cisco networking equipment within their enterprises, LuPriore said.

While Cisco may dominate enterprise networking, the potential to leverage a strong base in the carrier market also cuts both ways. Adtran, for example, has a strong presence in the carrier space. Now Adtran is looking to cloud networking requirements to extend its reach in the enterprise.

But without much visibility into the carrier and cloud service provider networks, getting customers to care about what equipment delivers those services may be a difficult sell, said Jon Arnold, principal with the market research firm J. Arnold & Associates.

“I’m not sure this is going to be a make-or-break conversation for a lot of customers,” Arnold said. “Most customers are just going to rely on the assurances of the carrier to meet their service-level agreements.”

Larger companies also tend to work with multiple carriers and cloud service providers, so unless they have a grudge with a particular networking vendor, it’s hard to get IT organizations to make decisions about what carrier to use based on the underlying network equipment that is employed.

Nevertheless, networking vendors such as Cisco are trying to create their own version of the Intel Inside branding phenomenon. Whether that ultimately factors into purchasing decisions remains to be seen. But solution providers in the channel can count on the fact that Cisco and its rivals are going to try their level best to make sure federated enterprise networking services become a much bigger issue in the era of the cloud.

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.