Riding the downturn: Network vendors eye new markets in ’09

Today's rough economy hasn't put the breaks on vendor ambition.

Microsoft aims to become a dominant player in hosted software and cloud computing in 2009, despite its late entry in these markets. Ditto for Microsoft in the virtualization arena -- where early arrival VMware has some lofty goals of its own, including shooting for a bigger role in data center management.

No less ambitious is Cisco, which is plotting a switching upgrade, blade servers for the data center and a security plan for virtualized and cloud-computing environments. Juniper Networks plans a refresh of its entire product portfolio, and Avaya will sharpen its focus on unified communications. Read on for details on what to expect this year from these and other key IT vendors, including their most pressing 2009 priorities and potential stumbling blocks.

Microsoft sharpens services, virtualization focus

Microsoft's services push dominated its 2008 agenda, and now it's time to deliver the goods.

Industry watchers are tuned in for details on Azure, Microsoft's newly unveiled cloud operating system, as well as the first Web-based versions of popular Office applications, due this year. These play prominently in Microsoft's battle vs. Google to attract enterprise users of online productivity applications.

Just released online versions of Exchange and SharePoint, two of Microsoft's most popular infrastructure servers, also are expected to make waves. "Exchange Online could be a sleeper product," says Peter O'Kelly, principal analyst with O'Kelly Consulting.

It will be a big year for virtualization at Microsoft, too. With its Hyper-V hypervisor firmly on IT's radar as part of Windows Server 2008, and with the recession now official and reinforcing virtualization's cost-saving benefits, Microsoft will deploy a full-court press in order to make its case that Hyper-V was worth the wait.

On the desktop front, Microsoft will spend less time trying to convince people that Vista is a good operating system with a bum rap and more time moving on to the slick UI enhancements and IT benefits of Windows 7. Central to the effort is Steven Sinofsky, who made his name stamping out versions of Office before taking over the Windows team. Sinofsky will deliver the first feature-complete beta version of Windows 7 in early 2009, and then the industry chatter will reach a fever pitch as to its merits and whether Sinofsky can deliver a final version before year-end.

Also on tap is a new version of Office Communications Server (OCS), due to ship in February. Microsoft wants nothing less than to drive the PBX into software. With some shaky players on the traditional telecom side, including partner Nortel, the time could be ripe for a big strategic push given that OCS 2007 R2 is slated to ship with features that will eliminate the need for on-premises gateways to handle VoIP calls.

VMware eyes data-center dominance

VMware is still the top player in the hypervisor market, but this year the company will move far beyond its original focus of virtualizing x86 servers.

VMware is "no longer a virtualization company," says Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett, who adds that VMware's current focus is providing tools that unlock the potential of virtualization, providing greater flexibility in the data center, improved disaster recovery and high availability.

VMware is banking much of its success on Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), a forthcoming software platform that will aggregate not only virtualized servers but also storage and network resources into one big computing pool that can then be deployed to virtual machines and applications.

Convincing enterprises that VMware deserves a commanding role in the data center will not be an easy task, however. VMware software, even the upcoming VDC-OS, manages only virtual resources. Physical servers that aren't running VMware's hypervisor are left out. Secondly, VMware manages only servers virtualized by its own hypervisor.

VMware argues that the adoption rate of Hyper-V and other hypervisors is so low that managing them is not worth expending VMware's R&D resources. "As of today, managing the other hypervisors doesn't represent a big enough market opportunity for us," says Bogomil Balkansky, VMware senior director of product marketing.

But Gillett says he's interested to see whether VMware ultimately relents and offers management tools for both virtual and physical servers, and for other hypervisors. Gillett notes that Microsoft is trying to position itself as a better alternative than VMware when it comes to interoperability.

Meanwhile, VDC-OS isn't VMware's only focus in 2009. The company also is planning to boost its desktop virtualization  capabilities and roll out vCloud, which will help customers connect their own data centers to those of external providers, making cloud data centers appear as a natural extension of an enterprise's own resources.

Cisco plots blade server, security moves

Cisco's big plans for this year include delivering a "Big Bang" in switching, blade servers for the data center, high-definition TelePresence conferencing for the home, and a security plan for virtualized and cloud-computing environments.

Cisco's switching upgrade will emerge this month and encompass more than just the Catalyst 6500, as initially expected. The emphasis on Big Bang, the code name for the switching upgrade, will be green and apply to Cisco's entire switching portfolio, says Marie Hattar, vice president of network systems and security solutions at Cisco.

Meanwhile, Cisco is reportedly developing a blade server offering that will compete with IBM, HP and Dell systems deployed for years within data centers. IBM and HP have been longtime partners of Cisco, but observers believe those relationships will be strained if Cisco offers its own blade server system.

Analysts say Cisco's data-center ambitions will accelerate in 2009 and underscore the company's intentions to become more of an overall IT vendor.

"Can they really make the credible transition to an IT vendor from a networking vendor?" asks Zeus Kerravala of The Yankee Group. "That is their absolute biggest challenge because that gets them into a whole different set of buying criteria."

Also on tap for 2009 from Cisco are security strategies for particular areas of data-center computing-- including user endpoints, virtualized devices and network elements -- as well as a broad architecture for safeguarding data centers and cloud-computing environments, Hattar says.

"I expect, in early '09, Cisco will finally articulate a cloud strategy," adds Rob Whiteley of Forrester Research. "By the end of '09 I'm expecting to see Cisco put more skin on the game with their own service offering."

Juniper redoubles enterprise efforts

Juniper plans to stay the course in 2009 -- stick hard and fast to its high-performance networking mantra, invest in areas where customers can lower total cost of ownership, and not be distracted by trendy markets such as video, collaboration and wireless LANs.

"We will spend money on making sure [customers are] secure; where they can drive TCO down; and increase choice in a multivendor strategy," says Mark Bauhaus, executive vice president and general manager of Juniper's service layer technology business group. With that in mind, Juniper is refreshing everything across the company, Bauhaus says.

Switching will get a kick in 2009 with the first quarter shipment of Juniper's EX 8208, its chassis-based data-center switch. Anticipation of the 8208 is heightened among industry watchers who view it as a potential threat to Cisco's Nexus 7000 and Catalyst 6500 in data-center switching.

For data-center virtualization, the EX switches support virtual chassis technology to reduce the number of interswitch links and the amount of equipment required in the data center. Virtual chassis allows as many as 10 of Juniper's fixed-configuration EX switches to be interconnected into a 480 Gigabit Ethernet port "switch." This enables, for example, data center managers to extend a tool such as VMware's VMotion across physical boundaries yet within the same logical Ethernet domain, enabling virtual machine mobility between physical data centers.

But the jury is still out on Juniper and its prospects in the enterprise. Cisco is so dominant, and has marginalized practically all of its longtime competitors, that Juniper seems to be fighting an unwinnable battle.

"Juniper [needs to] establish credibility in the enterprise," Yankee Group's Kerravala says. "They are certainly credible in the security space but in overall networking, they're a relatively new entrant in switching [and] they really don't have a very broad portfolio."

Security vendors forego "old school" methods

For security vendors, the big news in 2009 will be a shift away from traditional signature-based virus scanning as use of behavior-based detection and reputation analysis grows. Signature-based scanning is "static, old school," says Jerry Egan, director of product management at Symantec's security technology and response division. With 12,000 new malware specimens each day to detect and eradicate, "we think that technique is reaching the end of its useful life," Egan says.

Another complication is that malware is now so artfully designed, "it spreads to 20 or 30 machines then it mutates," Egan points out. That means "your neighbor has one variant and you have another. The effectiveness of each signature has gone down."

While Symantec isn't quite ready to jettison signature-based detection, the coming year is going to see a shift toward other antimalware techniques, including behavior-based protection, heuristics such as examining good and bad file characteristics, reputational analysis, and even whitelisting and blacklisting to allow or disallow code to run, Egan says.

The view about signature-based detection is not so different at Kaspersky Lab and Trend Micro.  

"Our experience is that there has been a 700% increase this year over last year alone in malware," says Peter Beardmore, senior product marketing manager at Kaspersky Lab. "This is absolutely challenging the traditional approach to signatures."

Trend Micro's approach, outlined by CEO Eva Chen in early 2008, is to put the signature patterns "in the cloud," with Trend Micro's SmartProtection detection methods. This approach, now in beta with 30 customers and expected to be rolled out in the second quarter of 2009, involves computers protected with Trend Micro's agent-based software that can query the cloud to detect and eradicate known malware.

McAfee, meanwhile, has begun a shift to cloud-based malware detection, and sees behavior-based detection as a good augmentation as well. Still, "signature-based recognition will always be part of security technologies," says Dave Marcus, director of security research and communications at McAfee.

Avaya centers on unified communications

For Avaya, 2009 could solidify the company's top spot on the UC sales charts, putting it in the best position to reap even more as the world economy improves in the years following, industry experts say.

In its favor are that the company is privately held, has been at work streamlining and has installed key executives to carry out well-formed plans. The downside is that it faces formidable competitors -- Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Nortel, Siemens, IBM, Microsoft -- that are equally hungry and have different pedigrees that may give them an edge.

The company started down a new path under CEO Lou D'Ambrosio, who oversaw Avaya's purchase by Silver Lake Partners in 2007 and charted a course to overhaul it. The plan called for doing better by being more efficient internally, shifting toward indirect sales, and focusing more on software and less on hardware.

Execution of that plan has continued under interim CEO Charles Giancarlo, who replaced D'Ambrosio when he resigned for health reasons in June 2008. A permanent replacement, Kevin Kennedy, took over this month.

On D'Ambrosio's watch, Avaya began focusing more on software and the potential for applications to make use of underlying UC infrastructure. To that end, the company established DevConnect, an application-developer community open to customers as well as independent software vendors.

"I think the DevConnect program is key to the business to help make that transition to software by adding a lot of [independent software vendor] partners," Kerravala says. "They'll be able to take advantage of the software platform they've created."

A hint about what Avaya might do next comes from Giancarlo. UC vendors as a whole have failed to follow the ease-of-use and content-rich model adopted by cell phone makers, he says. UC software needs to include standard applications, such as Rolodexes and address books that get used every day.

Also, UC client software must be portable to whatever device the customer wants to use, including cell phones, handhelds, laptops, desktops and kiosks. Plus, UC software must be open so it can be readily integrated into enterprise applications, Giancarlo says. "As an industry we've set an extraordinarily low bar so there's a great opportunity to improve upon that," he says.

That fits with Kerravala's take on where UC is headed. "To me that's the software-ization of UC, and being able to build a partner ecosystem around it," he says. "You're looking at Avaya emerging as a much different company."

This story, "Riding the downturn: Network vendors eye new markets in ’09" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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