Communities will lead the next wave of competitive advantage in networking

Competitive advantage for network technologies will be determined by a vendor’s ability to allow its customers to create custom features through a programmable front end and then share these ideas with a broader community. The community will become a self feeding ecosystem that will create a higher level of stickiness with network technologies.

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Sometime in the past month Brocade stealthily launched a community forum ( for its ADX Application Delivery Controller (ADC).  The Brocade forum will be powered with Brocade’s OpenScript Programming Engine, which is a PERL-based scripting interface to allow Brocade ADX administrators to create custom functionality for its service provider customer base.  

The use of PERL is a good decision for Brocade as it’s well adopted in service provider environments today so the barrier to entry should be fairly low.  As powerful as PERL is though, the real leverage with this announcement will be from the OpenScript Community.  

The community allows Brocade administrators to ask each other questions, share scripts and collaborate with one another.  In essence the community site facilitates conversations and collaboration between customers that have deployed ADX.  If executed on correctly, the community can create value for all Brocade customers. 

The concept of programmability and communities isn’t a new concept.  F5 Networks has set the gold standard for all scripting environments combined with a community site with its TCL based iRules and DevCentral community.   iRules used to be this geeky thing that was used by only a handful of administrators.  Over the past few years though, use of iRules has exploded so now it’s a geeky thing used by thousands of administrators and is easily the reason F5 has it’s 65%+ share in the ADC market. 

I remember talking with Citrix’s NetScaler group about iRules years ago and their take was that it was F5’s way of offloading feature development on the users.  Maybe so, but F5 took off like a rocket and NetScaler didn’t showing the power behind a quality scripting tool and community.  Since then Citrix has rolled out it’s own version of iRules but hasn’t been able to replicate the success F5 has.  Can it?  Sure, but it needs time to build the subscriber base.  This is where I think Brocade’s sole focus on service providers will bode them well.  They’re not trying to broadly copy F5, they’re trying to focus their efforts on a slice of the buyers – service providers that have the need and desire to customize. 

The ADC space isn’t the only market trying to capitalize on this trend.  A couple of months ago wireless solution provider, Aruba Networks launched its “Airheads” community ( that allows its customer to solve mobility related challenges. 

Juniper’s JUNOS Space and Cisco’s AXP environments are router based developer communities and Extreme Networks actually might have been the first network vendor with this concept with the XOS developer tools. 

So, while most of these are relatively new and the impact is still to come, I think one thing is clear – competitive advantage will be defined by a networking vendors ability to do cool things with the products and then share those ideas with a common community.  I think this will be one of the bigger trends to watch in 2012 as vendors look to get a leg up on competition. 

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