Top 10 questions about Avaya’s networking business

Avaya Networking is strong and can stand on its own, but ongoing financial struggles have hurt the Avaya brand and led to talk of it being sold.

The trials and tribulations of Avaya and the fate of its related businesses have been well documented in the press over the past six months. One of the business units I have been following most closely is the company’s networking business, as it has a differentiated product and could prove to be a significant asset to an acquirer. 

One of the challenges Avaya has had in networking is a lack of customer awareness into the product set or even the fact that Avaya is in networking. When I have brought the topic up with network engineers, I’ve received a number of questions about Avaya Networking. Below are the most common questions I have received: 

1. Avaya makes network infrastructure?
Avaya has been selling its own network infrastructure since it acquired Nortel in 2009. Nortel’s products were built with carrier-class reliability, and its customers enjoyed a number of unique features, such as split multi-link trunking (SMLT). That kind of innovation has existing inside Avaya for eight-plus years.

2. Is Avaya committed to networking?
As a watcher of Avaya, I’ve gotten mixed signals. The company says all the right things all the way up to CEO Kevin Kennedy. Almost all the executives talk about how important networking is, and Avaya has continued to fund the R&D necessary to have a robust portfolio.

Also, many of the regional events the company has participated in have been exclusively focused on networking. In some ways, Avaya’s strong focus on networking is to the detriment of the core business.

However, good products go only so far. Sales execution is an important part of the equation, and Avaya doesn’t have enough feet on the street to get the company more swings at the networking bat. There are no mandatory quotas for sales to sell networking, with the exception of dedicated network sales executives, and there are no accelerators like there are for the core UC products. So, my answer to the question is that Avaya is committed to networking technology but has lacked conviction when it comes to sales execution.

3. Is the product as good as advertised?
Avaya has published several case studies and has made bold claims about beating the incumbent vendors. I believe the product is as good as the company claims.

In 2007, prior to its acquisition by Avaya and long before anyone had uttered the words “software-defined networking,” the Nortel Networking team made a critical decision to build a product based on the shortest path bridging (SPB) protocol. The thought was that the distribution of control plane was not the fundamental problem holding back networking. Rather it was the interdependency of all the layered protocols within the control plane stack that drives complexity and instability.

SPB hit the nail on the networking head, as unicast and multicast networks can now be supported with a single protocol, making an Avaya network simpler to deploy and manage than competing networks. I’ve talked to enough customers to confidently say Avaya’s network products work as advertised.

4. Does Avaya have a strong data center portfolio?
Avaya’s data center solution is different than the other products out there. Its switches do not have the density that some of the other vendors have, but it doesn’t need it because its meshed leaf/spine removes the requirement for a high-bandwidth, high-density core.

The way to evaluate Avaya’s Data Center Network is to measure the top of rack to top or rack speed, as the network is a true fabric with any point being only a single hop from any other. Its weakness in the data center is that it doesn’t have a storage or hyper-converged offering. A partnership in this area would help Avaya’s UC business as well. Its existing UC “POD” runs on traditional servers and storage, and Avaya could greatly simplify the architecture by running it on a hyper-converged solution.

5. Does Avaya really have a wireless solution?
Avaya has a decent wireless solution, although it doesn’t have the range of APs that many of the other vendors have, and it recently added unified cloud management for wired and wireless.

One of the benefits of the Avaya solution is the customer can start with cloud managed and later expand to include some of their Ethernet switches (Future). The base code comes from Xirrus, but Avaya has done its own development with the software, which is why its fabric architecture extends out to the access edge. In my opinion, Avaya should have bought Xirrus years ago, but despite that, its wireless is certainly competitive.

6. Does the Avaya solution have an ecosystem? This was a fair question about two years ago, but since then, the company has been focused on building an ecosystem. Below is a sampling of Avaya Networking’s current technology partners:

  • AXIS – Video surveillance
  • FireEye – Security
  • FatPipe – SD-WAN
  • Engelbart – Emergency services
  • 8KPC and Nutanix for hyper-convergnce, although is it really fully endorsed?
  • CradlePoint – WAN
  • OVS contribution

7. Does Avaya have any certified engineers?
This is something Avaya has certainly lagged in. In November 2015, it launched its ACE-Fx certification program, and after about 18 months, the company is up to 450 certified engineers. While this is a long way from CCIE, it’s a large enough number to make it a credible certification.

8. Isn’t shortest path bridging proprietary?
SPB was the first “next generation” network protocols certified and is based on the industry standard 802.1aq and IETF RFC 6329. Many vendors take standards and create proprietary extensions, but Avaya has maintained its implementation as a pure industry standard. As proof of this, Avaya has demonstrated interoperability with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Huawei, HP blade severs, Ixia and Spirent.

9. Has anyone deployed Avaya Networking?
The product started slow, but it has seen decent growth in the past 36 months with many of the wins coming in emerging markets such as India and the UAE. Avaya now claims to have over 840 deployments globally highlighted by the Sochi Olympics.

10. Is there any talent left in Avaya Networking?
This is one of the strengths of the business. Many of the top talent that came over from Nortel—Paul Unbehagen, Jean Turgeon (JT), Liam Kiely, Jake Power and Roger Lapuh and many other diehard Bay Networks guys—have stayed on board and are why the product is as strong as it is. The talent in Avaya Networking is a strong differentiator and would be worth acquiring.

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Avaya Networking is strong and can stand on its own, but ongoing financial struggles have hurt the Avaya brand. One sales engineer I talked to, who is simultaneously excited and frustrated with the networking products, believes that if the business were to be sold off or even re-branded it would have 10 times the traction it does now. 

Avaya acquisition rumors

Regarding a possible acquisition, Silicon Valley rumors are that most of the interested parties have backed out, leaving—in my opinion—only one or two low-ball offers. It probably isn’t because of the technology, but maybe the cost structure is just not optimal. How many hundreds of employees would actually be assigned to networking only is a good question. While there is a crop of strong talent there today, Avaya needs to get this settled quickly or the strong individuals will jump to the competition.

Personally, I would rather Avaya hang on to the business and figure out the company financials rather than see it give it away in a fire sale. The market needs more comprehensive solutions. When putting all the pieces together, Avaya has a good differentiated offering. Hopefully they all come to realize it before some pieces get away.

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