Twice a year the largest companies get together to help plot out the future. Businesses are now talking about digital transformation, changing their IT to adapt to the new age of digital information, analytics and cloud technologies. But their traditional networks are holding them back. Network innovation is starting to be driven by the buyers—not vendors—of technology, and it is not about price. The focus is flexibility and agility. The conversation is not being driven by Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks or Arista Networks; it’s being driven by their end customers, companies like Citigroup, FedEx, The Gap, General Electric and Pfizer. These companies represent a huge portion of the networking spend, and they are putting their thumb on the scale when it comes to what the future of innovation is going to look like. The Open Networking User Group (ONUG) is helping the business world articulate use cases that will shape the market moving forward. User input matters, and results are starting to show. The group is talking more about deployments, not just theories. We’re seeing open networking becoming more mainstream, more accepted. You can access the full report at no cost from our website.
The biannual ONUG forum is a chance for all of these companies to collaborate on their use cases in order to drive vendors towards actual open networking solutions. To give you an idea about the influence that this group can have, when the topic of network monitoring came up, the speaker asked if all of the people spending more than $100M a year in monitoring would stand up. 9 companies were represented. When he then asked who was spending more than $10M most of the room was on their feet. That is a billion right there in the room; these are opinions that matter if you are a vendor. And vendors are listening. Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) was an early use case that was identified by this group; now we have dozens of different solutions to choose from and high market acceptance / deployment.
Here is the TL;DR summary of what I heard:
- SD-WAN is mainstream. This is important, because it shows the influence that ONUG has had in getting vendors to better address how businesses link their headquarters with branches, suppliers and partners, making it easier, faster and cheaper.
- Second-level problems are pointing to maturity and deployments. In academic environments one can wax about “the way things should be” but in production environments you find out “how things should really be”, including all the warts and pitfalls. This is a positive sign that the solutions are actually being deployed in production environments, not in test vacuums.
- Analytics is becoming more of an issue. Beyond everything being connected, everything is now reporting health and status. This is what a business can use to fine tune and optimize everything from manufacturing processes to marketing. But businesses still have to collect and analyze all of that data, there is no “easy button” here.
- Complexity is a given. Three years go everyone said SDN will make things easier. Now companies are finding out that to gain the flexibility of SDN and open networking there will actually be more complexity. Which is why I predict that automation will be the next front in this war. The more complex things get, the more automation a business will need to offset the complexity.
- People are going to make the difference. Nobody in IT has the right skills today. Over and over, in almost every session, the call for more investment in developing people was made loud and clear. 3 years ago SDN was seen by some as a job killer, now it might actually become a résumé enhancer.
- Hybrid cloud is going to be critical. I hosted a panel on hybrid cloud (and have also recently written about it), and it is clear that there is high interest in this topic. While there are plenty of different definitions of what hybrid cloud actually means, it’s clear that almost everyone wants some kind of answer. And now.
Overall we are seeing continued interest, and most importantly, action, from ONUG. Member companies are investing the manpower and resources to drive these working groups, because they see the value coming out the other end. We’re still in the early first quarter of this network transformation game, but it is clear where things are headed. They are heading towards open and flexible, because businesses can’t get where they need to go with the infrastructure they have today, something has to change.
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