As an analyst that covers all things networking, spanning the enterprise to carrier cellular services, I’m often asked what defines a modern infrastructure approach. From my perspective, it encapsulates several common elements that include software-defined tools, a fully integrated technology feature stack and a microservices, cloud-native architecture supported by containerization. Many established networking infrastructure providers, as well as start-ups, offer some of these capabilities, but in my mind three are currently doing an exceptional job in providing a holistic offering: HPE Aruba, Cisco Systems and Anuta Networks. I would like to examine their efforts in further detail and provide my insights.
HPE Aruba CX Switching Portfolio
I’ll start with HPE Aruba since it most recently rearchitected its switching portfolio. At first glance, it’s a strong offering, with its cloud-native design, unified architecture, and distributed analytics capabilities. Cloudification and a microservices architecture provide scalability, programmability, ease-of-deployment and management. Additionally, it provides improved enterprise-wide network visibility and assurance for fast issue identification and resolution. A unified architecture in my mind is a game changer, and Aruba delivers here. It provides enterprises the flexibility to deploy the same hardware and software, from the edge to the data center, which streamlines network design and simplifies operations through a consistent user experience. Finally, the Aruba CX switching portfolio helps network operators quickly detect and resolve issues through its Network Analytics Engine (NAE). NAE collects rich analytics directly on the switch for network-wide insights, eliminating the need to stream telemetry back to a central location. The obvious benefits are reduced latency and faster decisions. NAE also delivers a more granular level of visibility versus external tools that only sample for the sake of scale, or that fail to capture information during network interruptions. With its purpose-built, cloud-native design, unified architecture and distributed analytics, I believe the Aruba CX switching portfolio is well-positioned to address today’s highly taxed, IoT-enabled and mobile-first network environments.
Cisco Systems Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)
Cisco’s ACI architecture is a software-defined platform that supports multi-cloud and multi-domain environments. I believe its value lies in its ability to be deployed anywhere and scale massively to facilitate application agility and data center automation. At a high level, ACI promises to deliver in a number of areas. First, it supports proactive and predictive networking capabilities to address multiple use cases. Secondly, it has the ability to run on any platform from hypervisor to container, at any location (on-premise, cloud or edge), and support any workload. Finally, it enables a consistent policy deployment regardless of location with high availability, security and scalability. From my standpoint, ACI is compelling because of its flexibility, intelligence, and real-time insights capabilities all managed by a single pane of glass. To that end, ACI compliments Cisco Nexus 9000 data center switches that support programmability through the use of custom silicon. With the networking giant’s big bet on an intent-based networking strategy, assurance capabilities are also an important consideration. Cisco Network Assurance Engine claims to leverage patented network verification technology to ensure mathematically that network performance is aligned to operator intent. Assurance is incredibly powerful considering its ability to ensure uptime and reduce security risks in mission-critical business areas through predictive change management. It’s also data driven, and given the depth and breadth of Cisco’s data lake, the company is well-positioned to deliver. I’ve written about network assurance in the past, and if interested you can find that article here.
Anuta Networks ATOM Platform
ATOM is a clever name that captures Anuta’s overall capability to deliver assurance, telemetry and orchestration across a multi-vendor network environment. Core to the Anuta platform is a microservices architecture that offers a fully integrated and containerized set of software-defined features. This approach allows customers of any size to start with small pilots and scale to thousands of devices. What I also find compelling about ATOM is that network operators can pick discrete features and functionality, selectively conduct rolling upgrades based on containerization and deploy just about anywhere, from on-premise to private, public and hybrid cloud. ATOM offers multiple automation tools, including configuration and topology management, compliance, software imaging, monitoring, reporting, streaming telemetry, analytics, alert correlation and automated remediation. This is compelling given most if not all other networking start-ups offer only a subset of this functionality. Anuta also claims that it offers some of the widest multi-vendor device support in the industry—close to 50 infrastructure providers. Furthermore, Anuta offers a low-code automation tool that simplifies network policy creation and facilitates operator intent. This capability automates compliance for report generation and proposed remediation as well as supports abstraction and programmability capabilities. Anuta may not have the scale and install base of Aruba or Cisco, but I believe it is a company to keep an eye on in the near term given the robustness of its offering.
The number of network management solutions available today is overwhelming. How do IT organizations determine the ones most worthy of consideration? That short list should include architectures that deliver web-scale, ease of deployment and management, network device visibility and programmability, and assurance and analytics. Furthermore, they should support automation and zero-touch provisioning given the expected proliferation of IoT and BYOD. Traditional incumbents such as Aruba and Cisco deliver strong, modern connectivity platforms, but so do start-ups such as Anuta. I believe there is also further opportunity for these companies to take advantage of stumbles by Juniper and more recently Arista Networks to consolidate share. Over the last few years, a modern infrastructure approach rooted in web-scale architecture and software-defined capabilities has reinvigorated the networking space. This has allowed a handful of networking solution incumbents to rise above the others and also ushered new entrants into the market. I expect that trend to continue—enterprises will benefit with more choices, improved networking capabilities and better economics that span capital expenditure to operational expense control.