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Avaya's simple plan

Company cutting through layers of complexity from recent advancements like SDN, etc., with its Shortest Path Bridging fabric

Avaya doesn’t make much noise in the Ethernet LAN switching market. The company’s market share dipped to 1.1% in 2013 from 1.4% in 2011, according to Dell’Oro Group.

But Avaya is steadfast in its resolve to remain relevant in Ethernet switching and in the minds of its customers. The company is embarking on a three pillared strategy to simplify networking even as it becomes more complex with the addition of software-defined networking, application awareness, policy and wired/wireless integration.

Those pillars are Unified Access, Automation and Infrastructure/Application Integration, and combined they can help simplify operations for overwhelmed IT practitioners, Avaya officials said this week. Well, who isn’t attacking those opportunities, you might ask? Avaya’s differentiator is the foundation fabric for its strategy, Shortest Path Bridging-based Fabric Connect.

Ah yes, the fabric debates: TRILL vs. SPB vs. MLAG vs. Cisco FabricPath vs. Juniper QFabric vs. HP Intelligent Resilient Framework… Whatever became of those? They seem to have quieted down a lot since SDN moved to the forefront.

Silent yes, but viable nonetheless – at least in Avaya’s world. Company officials described a hospital that had 25 people managing an 80,000 port network across 15 healthcare sites. The hospital, which Avaya did not name, redeployed all but three of those network operators after replacing OSPF routing and Spanning Tree with SPB. Network reconvergence time was reduced to 50 milliseconds from 20 seconds, multiple unicast and multicast protocols fighting for CPU resources were consolidated within SPB, and millions of dollars per year are being saved, the Avaya officials claim.

A write-up of Avaya Fabric Connect and SPB in action in six data centers at the Sochi Olympics can be found here.

In the unified access pillar, Avaya’s Xirrus-sourced 9100 wireless access point attaches directly into the SPB fabric and becomes a fabric node, adopting SPB’s native security mechanisms. This alleviates the need to configure WLAN-specific Wired Equivalent Privacy and WiFi Protected Access tunnels, according to Avaya.

“There’s no more handing off from tunnel to tunnel,” says Paul Unbehagen, Avaya Networking’s chief architect.

It also improves roaming, Unbehagen says, because end stations stay on the same LAN and subnet.

In the automation pillar, Avaya has developed Fabric Attach, code software developers can write to to have their application automatically attached and configured on Fabric Connect. Avaya is extending Link Layer Discovery Protocol to allow Fabric Connect switches and access points to assign network service level profiles to the applications as they onboard.

Unbehagen says Avaya and some other vendors are proposing these LLDP extensions to the IEEE and IETF for standards consideration.

For infrastructure and application integration, Avaya is proposing its Avaya Diagnostic Server, which places agents on the switches to monitor applications and set latency, loss and jitter thresholds. With these thresholds, Fabric Connect can set up the proper paths in the network for those applications.

Avaya is working within the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum and OpenStack to standardize a northbound interface so tools like Avaya Diagnostic Server can send relevant information to higher level orchestration and policy engines. Avaya just joined OpenDaylight a month ago to participate in that organization’s development of an open source SDN framework.

All of the organizational and internal activity is meant to make network operations simpler even though advances like SDN, virtualization, cloud, mobility, and APIs to higher and lower and middle level orchestrators keep getting layered on.

“The industry is looking at a massive evolution,” Unbehagen says. “We’re taking human beings out of the equation through automation.”

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