Lippis Report 111: Net Infrastructure Firms Build Developer Ecosystems Tightly Linking Apps and Nets To Create Business Value

Enterprise networks, especially branch office networks, have experienced a level of service integration over the past five years that has delivered lower acquisition and operational cost while increasing the number of services available to branch office employees. Branch office routers now include switching, WLANs, PoE, network security, WAN Optimization, VPN, unified communications and advanced routing which increase application performance over thin wide area network links. This Lippis Report is based upon a white paper we have authored and which will be distributed after Labor Day. We explain the next generation of branch office optimization, which is the integration of applications into the network fabric. The networking industry has started to open up its software in the form of SDKs and APIs. Cisco, Juniper, Extreme, 3Com and the open source routing initiatives are all allowing developers to write to defined router software interfaces. We explore its value proposition in detail and provide guidance to business and IT leaders who wish to exploit this new model for value creation and improved service delivering in branch office operations.

A New Approach to Branch Office Value Creation Emerges

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There is a new model in branch office networking that links networks and applications much tighter than ever before. Branch office IT infrastructure is entering its third phase of maturity into an era we call the integrated application approach. As with most investments, trends are difficult to predict, as significant demand is required to identify the trend. During the process of demand-to-trend both IT leaders and suppliers start to offer architected solutions, which become more sophisticated over time. The same is true for branch office infrastructure. We offer the three phases of branch office networking and why the next phase is the integrated application approach.

Optimizing Branch Office Operations With Cisco’s AXP

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Phase One: Overlay

The first phase of solutions was an overlaying of services such as routing, switching, firewalls, servers, storage, applications, etc. There was little to no integration of devices and virtualization of services. Overlays quickly became too expensive as their multiple devices sourced from different suppliers distributed over thousands of branch offices drove up all aspects of total cost of ownership and became too complex to operate.

Phase Two: Integrated Networks

To control complexity and reduce TCO, the second phase of branch office IT infrastructure was the integrated network approach. The integrated network virtualized many network services such as routing, switching, firewall, Introduction Protection Systems (IPS), WLANs, VPN, WAN acceleration, IP telephony or unified communications, etc. This integrated approach significantly reduced TCO by integrating all of these network services into one device. The integrated approach also placed all network services under one management umbrella offering both IT operational efficiency and headroom so that additional branch offices could be deployed without adding more IT personnel.

Studies have shown that IT operations were reduced by 50 to 70% as the integrated network approach was adopted. The integrated approach not only addressed TCO but offered branch office personnel additional services such as unified communications, mobility, application performance improvement and integrated security. Paradoxically survivability of branch office IT infrastructure increased as firms deployed the integrated network approach; the number of devices per branch were significantly reduced with a single high mean time between failure (MTBF) integrated device. Power requirements dropped as well, allowing the company to reduce its carbon footprint.

As a reference, there are over 5 million of Cisco’s Integrated Services Routers (ISRs) that have shipped. This number can be viewed as market acceptance to this Phase Two approach.

Phase Three: Integrated Applications

The industry is starting to offer the third phase of branch office IT infrastructure. The third phase is the integration of applications and networks from a physical packaging plus application delivery and deployment point of view. One of the main drivers of the third phase is data center consolidation, which enables branch optimization through aggregation and consolidation of the branch IT footprint, further lowering TCO. Business and IT leaders who have deployed the integrated network approach are now required to increase the manageability of their branch applications by moving some of their server-based applications onto the network platform.

To achieve the integrated application approach the networking industry has started to open up its software in the form of SDKs and APIs. Cisco, Juniper, Extreme, 3Com and the open source routing initiatives are allowing developers to write to well defined router software interfaces. This is an important development as it provides a venue for increased innovation in networking and tighter linkage between applications and networks. But Cisco has taken this activity to a higher level by offering Linux and Windows platforms within its Integrated Services Router (ISR) and Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) products respectively, delivering on the network as a platform concept.

Approaches to Integrated Applications

There are multiple approaches being offered by various vendors to the integrated application approach. For example, 3Com offers its Open Network, Juniper Network has Open JUNOS, Cisco offers AXP (mentioned above), while Extreme Networks launched its Widget Central. These efforts mostly offer restricted access to the network operating system such as monitoring and management feature sets. For example, Extreme has created an ecosystem around the development of application widgets by exposing features and providing software developers with access to its ExtremeXOS. Most widgets offer views and management assist for Extreme customers.

Cisco differs from the above suppliers in that the AXP is a dedicated Linux server with dedicated hard-disk and memory. It resides as a service module within its ISR routers for branch offices. The AXP is equipped with an API, which exposes certain routing features such as packet monitoring, event trigger allowing applications to react to router events, IOS configuration allowing applications to dynamically change router configuration, information API providing information available via command line interface and SNMP agents, etc. Application developers can access routing features through the AXP’s APIs and host their applications on the router. The AXP also supports virtualization of applications in completely self-contained contexts, allowing the ability to host multiple applications on the same service module in a secure manner. In addition to AXP, Cisco also offers a Windows Server platform within its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) product.

There are open source approaches as well, such as eXtensible Open Router Platform (XORP), Zebra/Quagga and Vyatta. XORP and Quagga are research projects in open routing with little traction in enterprise computing. Vyatta is similar to Red Hat in that they offer open source routing code and charge for software subscriptions, network interfaces, hardware appliances, professional services and training.

What will determine success in the integrated application approach to branch office IT infrastructure will be the scale of the implementation or market share, solution economics, feature attributes, size of partner and developer ecosystem plus go to market strategy. As a point of comparison, there have been a few hundred thousand downloads of Vyatta’s Vyatta Community Edition 4.0 routing code versus 5 million Cisco ISR routers in production.

For a vertical industry example consider NICE Systems. NICE provides solutions for voice recording, monitoring, and managing customer interactions for organizations with multiple branches. NICE has teamed up with Cisco to deliver their Network Embedded VoIP logger on top of Cisco’s AXP. The NICE Network Embedded VoIP logger captures voice packets traversing the ISR and supports SRST (Survivable Remote Site Telephony) providing local audio storage with offsite archiving. There is no additional hardware for this solution, just an ISR with AXP. This solution allows business and IT leaders to address the growing trend of more personalized customer interaction requirements and increased regulation to journal customer interactions across many industries around the globe such as Base II in the US, MiFiD in Europe, FSA in the UK and JSOX in Japan. By embedding voice recording in the network, network optimization is achieved, recording servers are eliminated and application survivability ensured.

The networking companies are starting to position their infrastructure products as platforms and rightfully so. Some are developing developer and partner ecosystems that deliver value to customer unleashed by their platforms. As business and IT leaders start to think about the network as a business platform we offer a few considerations.

Consider platform suppliers with large market share/footprint and financial resources to sustain a healthy ecosystem. This is a critical consideration as ecosystem development is an expensive commitment that requires a business and technical architecture to be managed and optimized so that value is being delivered to market. In addition a certification, test and support program are important ecosystem attributes; make sure your platform provider has these partner aspects in place.

Consider platforms that deliver bi-directional network and application awareness to deliver lower TCO, higher application optimization and increased business continuity. The best platforms will have a deep library of services, which developers can access, and APIs to specific network information and control, which will create a rapid development environment of feature rich applications.

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