28 May 2014
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Wireless by default, wired by exception

By Heather Wright

It’s impossible to avoid wireless when talking network infrastructure, as Heather Wright discovers.

Mark Dasent, Connector Systems general manager for networking and wireless, sums it up neatly.

“It is what it is,” he says of network infrastructure. “It's very commoditised now really, particularly the run of the mill one gigabit switching products.”

Dasent says while Connector Systems is seeing trends on the network side such as the move away from one gigabit to 10 gigabit networks, the biggest move of all is to wireless, something Dasent says is now ‘a mainstream part of network infrastructure’.

“It’s becoming commoditised. We sell literally thousands of access points so it is commoditised to mainstream.”

Chris Fair, Atlas Gentech product manager, agrees wireless is now a key part of most networks, driven in part by BYOD and the demand to be able to collaborate with colleagues anywhere within a building.

“People want to be able to pick up their laptop or tablet and take it into a huddle room or conference room to meet with colleagues or clients. And having robust Wi-Fi within a building is critical to that.”

And there is plenty happening within wireless to keep us all on our toes.

Dasent highlights the move to 802.11ac wireless Lan, which he says is gaining momentum, something he expects will accelerate rapidly with the second wave, which brings even greater rates, next year.

He notes there’s a 20% premium on .11ac over standard .11n technology. In a September 2013 report, IT Market Clock for Enterprise Networking Infrastructure 2013, Gartner analyst Bjarne Munch said the adoption of .11ac will make the all-wireless office a reality for many workers demanding mobility, with new wireless technologies making Lan bandwidth sufficient to handle all foreseen loads.

“However, market adoption will be moderate and occur only in specific niche applications.” He predicts .11ac will account for only 9% of the AP installed base by 2017, and also warns that those planning wireless networks ‘must not underestimate the complexity and cost’ to make wireless Lans work.

Nevertheless, Munch says the flexibility the offering brings to business has a high impact because of increased top-end throughput within a coverage area, which helps applications that require large file transfers, such as computer-aided design or the high-definition data streams needed for telepresence or in-home entertainment.

“Broader business benefits will be delayed until most enterprise client devices utilising the infrastructure are 5GHz capable, including tablets, laptops, smartphones and other network-connected devices, such as printers.”

The figures Gartner says market revenue for enterprise network equipment in 2013 totalled US$36.3 billion – equivalent to a 6.2% increase from 2012.

Ethernet switch revenue rose by 5.6% from 2012 to 2013, whereas application acceleration revenue declined by 5.2%. WLAN was, unsurprisingly, the market that grew the most.

Looking ahead, Gartner predicts global spending on enterprise network infrastructure will grow 3.8% in 2014, 2.7% in 2015 and 2.3% in 2016.

Market revenue for firewall/VPN and wireless LAN solutions will grow the strongest through to 2018, while ethernet switches will decline from 84% of LAN spending in 2013 to 71% by 2018 – still a dominant chunk.

The industry analysts put Cisco, HP, Juniper Networks, CheckPoint Software Technologies and Huawei as the top five vendors worldwide in 2012-2013 for enterprise network equipment, with Huawei the biggest climber, seeing a revenue jump of 24.6%.

That revenue increase leaves them with a 2.5% revenue share, fast approaching CheckPoint at 3.1%. However, it's Cisco that continues to hold dominant sway, claiming a 51.6% revenue share in 2013 – a country mile ahead of nearest rival HP, on 8.5%.

Juniper, at number three, manages 3.9%. Munch says today's networking vendor landscape is 'unlike any we have seen before'.

He attributes that to four factors: dramatic changes in user requirements, migration of enterprise infrastructure from in-house to external cloud models, the aftermath of network vendor consolidation and the goal of large IT play.

Munch says the convergence of infrastructure and applications, software, the cloud and all aspects of data centre infrastructure, has transformed the market from small specialty offers into a key battleground for large players.

“We are witnessing battles among the IT giants — for example, among Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and HP over infrastructure, and among Microsoft, Cisco Systems, IBM and others in communications applications and collaboration.

“As other major technology trends emerge, we anticipate other large vendors to join the battle.

"For example, SDN will change the dynamics in the data centre with vendors such as VMware and NEC entering, in addition to a plethora of new vendors eyeing an opportunity for disruption.

"However, the competitive impact of SDN has also emerged in other areas of the network, like the access network where SDN is making policy management more agile.”

Munch says network infrastructure must rapidly adapt to be able to support future highly virtualised, intelligent, applicationaware enterprise communications systems.

Older generations of network architecture, outdated designs and legacy technologies are barriers to deploying new infrastructure and application delivery method – in particular virtualisation and cloud computing, unified communications, video and mobile.

“This places a massive operational burden on the network administrator who is tasked with adopting new technologies such as virtualisation, wireless and convergence, but also has to struggle to support older systems.

“The trend toward ever-greater operational consolidation further compounds this problem because it is difficult to operationally integrate new systems with old systems.”

So what technologies should we be watching out for in the network infrastructure arena?

In Munch’s Gartner report, he lists OpenFlow, SDN, 802.11n, .11b and .11g WLAN and application delivery controllers (ADCs), as items to be acted on within 12 months through pilots and building out coverage or making the technology part of upgrade planning.

Load balances he notes, should also be acted on in 12 months – but to refresh whenever possible with advanced ADCs, as load balancers are deemed ‘end of life’.

Meanwhile, Atlas Gentech’s Fair says gigabit passive optical networks, made up of products including optical line terminals, are beginning to gain traction locally.

GPon replaces active switching gear which uses electricity, with passive gear. Optical splitter enable a single optical fibre to be split to serve however many are required. The technology substantially reduces power and cooling requirements for the network, Fair says.

“It’s the architecture of Fibre to the Home, scaled down to really small size, and it’s ideal for places like aged care homes, apartments.”

Fair says education will be key to the growth of the technology in New Zealand, with many under the misconception that it’s completely new and bleeding edge – with all the associated risks associated being an early adopter of new technology.

He says Atlas Gentech, which handles both Huawei and 3M GPon products will be ramping up its education offerings for resellers, as it begins to more aggressively push the offerings.

Fair says end users are also looking to future proof their networks and provide for future fibre and LTE offerings. With that in mind, routers with modular interface cards, are proving popular, allowing users to swap out a card for an upgrade path using the same CPE.

Of data centres and SDN

Greg Barnes, A10 Networks ANZ managing director, says he’s seeing a continued movement towards the data centre within network infrastructure.

“The access layer is the only point on a network that will remain onsite, but even at this point the network’s ‘intelligence’ will be controlled within the data centre.

“From a hardware perspective, the access layer has become heavily commoditised, with the value now lying within the data centre. This value comprises intelligent routing, quality of service, application delivery and management and monitoring, to name a few.”

On the security front, Barnes says he’s seeing a further drive inwards from an overall network and security policy perspective.

“Organisations who continue to manage security policy via bespoke devices and policies will lag behind. Such organisations will maintain their existing large IT operations staff, while those embracing technologies such as SDN will leverage the data centre for networking and security.

“Wireless technologies will follow suit, in fact they have preceded fixed networks through the use of wireless controllers, which were introduced over a decade ago.

"At that point, the access layer, or access points, became unintelligent and commoditised devices. The successful wireless vendors had intelligent controllers and management platforms.

"This continues to be the case today and we are seeing a similar trend with fixed networks… aka SDN.”

And speaking of SDN, software defined networking is the most talked about technology in the network arena at the moment.

Gartner says the approach ‘represents a potential transformation in how enterprises will design, build, operate and procure network hardware and software’.

He says as SDN matures, a ‘significant boost’ in network innovation may occur as network features and applications become decoupled from the underlying network hardware.

“New markets will emerge, especially for SDN applications that have the potential to completely change enterprises’ physical network deployment and network operations.

"New competitive vendor environments must also evolve to support the evolving enterprise network landscape and financial models.”

However, Munch warns that despite the hype, the technology is still in its infancy.“… However, SDN’s promise of increased network agility has created strong interest from both enterprises and service providers.

As a result, we expect SDN to rapidly mature to the next phase.” Luke Frost, LevelOne ANZ marketing manager, adds power over Ethernet (PoE) to the list of trends being seen in network infrastructure.

“PoE is everywhere at the moment, as more companies look at scalable options and saving on installation costs. There are some innovative technologies emerging for extending PoE networks over fibre, which is really adding a new element to large-scale outdoor networks.

“For example, it is possible to extend a PoE surveillance network up to 2km from the source using power/ fibre hybrid cable.”

Beyond technology

But it isn’t just about the technology, Fair says. He advocates resellers thinking about ‘owning’ entire buildings – from the point of entry to the device on the desk or in the end users’ hands – rather than just supplying the Wi-Fi or the routers and switches.

But more than that, he says the biggest stride forward will come when resellers stop focusing so much on technical specifications, and focus more on what those technical specifications enable the customer to do with their network.

“Often we’re selling a box, sticking it in and walking away. But there is more money to be had if you can become the subject matter expert and have that conversation with customers about what the network will enable them to do, and be seen as more than just the guy who brings the box to the premises.

“You have to differentiate yourself from others, because if you’re only differentiating on price, that erodes margins very quickly.”

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