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Are You Feeling Boxed In?

ONUG looks to steer vendors away from lock-in goals

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The Open Networking User Group board of directors comprises some heavy hitters in the corporate enterprise market. They recently published their first white paper, Open Networking Challenges and Opportunities, showing they intend to put their clout to good use in migrating the industry toward software-defined networking.

As Network World reported, the group “includes some of the biggest end user IT organizations in the industry [and] is looking to persuade network vendors to meet its requirements for greater multivendor interoperability and diversity…”

That users are feeling feisty in this era of open networking shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, it should be a welcome reflection of the fact that networking, just like virtually every aspect of the enterprise infrastructure, is increasingly focused on software, not the proprietary boxes that have for so long dominated this part of the landscape.

Over the past several years, technology market research firm IDC has been trumpeting its vision that the industry is transitioning to the Third Platform – the first platform was mainframe computing, the second distributed computing. This new third platform, says IDC, is built on the four pillars of cloud, mobile, Big Data and social technologies.

As a result, the way IT services are consumed is changing. In an “anything-as-a-service” business environment, enterprises are rapidly migrating to a true hybrid environment that encompasses on-premise, off-premise, subscription, on-demand, and rented resources.

This has major implications for network design. In order to smoothly integrate these hybrid resources, networks must move away from proprietary, special purpose boxes toward more generalized devices that support the rapid, dynamic flow of virtualized assets. Take away “proprietary” and take away “special purpose” and you arrive at a formula for major transformation of the traditional networking industry.

As long-time industry observer Charlie Babcock wrote last year, “In enterprise computing, vendor lock-in is too often a fait accompli.” When a particular company becomes a dominant vendor behind a particular technology it develops products around proprietary elements that prevent customers from leaving and ensure only proprietary vendors can capitalize on the technology, according to his analysis.

Many enterprises have grown their entire infrastructures around such proprietary platforms. But as we migrate to IDC’s 3rd Platform, the proprietary model is being deconstructed.

"The growing complexity of today's virtualized networks has made it no longer feasible to rely on a single vendor to deliver an end-to-end solution that fits every customer's requirements of service agility and scalability," said Kelly Herrell, vice president and general manager of Software Networking at Brocade, earlier this summer in announcing the company’s open networking platform for cloud and telecommunications services providers.

Whether you’re a service provider or an enterprise, your focus these days is undoubtedly on increased flexibility, increased agility and lowering the costs of service. Being able to virtually direct data flows, rather than relying on special purpose switching and routing hardware is crucial to all of three of those goals.

To thrive in this new environment, networking vendors must be able to compete and participate in an open networking environment, with a focus on adding value in the software, rather than locking customers into hardware. Led by ONUG, users stand ready to use their purchase power to make that happen.

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