I have commented a few times (here and here) that the move towards software-defined everything means that new combatants will be stepping into what has been traditionally been a fairly sparsely populated networking boxing ring. If one of the end games for SDN is a tighter link between applications and the network, then it was always only a matter of time before the networking guys stepped into applications, and the application guys stepped into networking.
And so as Oracle announces another acquisition in the SDN space, this appears to be playing out as predicted.
In case you missed it, Oracle announced this week that they were acquiring WAN virtualization player Corente, whose “policy-defined and enforced abstraction layer…replaces the hard-wired enterprise network with an intelligent software-defined one.”
There are a few stories about the acquisition here:
So what does this mean for the networking industry?
This is the next step in what will likely be a long journey from enterprise software into broader IT infrastructure. The future of IT is not silos of compute, storage, networking, and applications. So any company whose ambition is to be the leading IT vendor will need to broaden their portfolio to include the various elements. This means that companies like Oracle will need to add aspects of networking to their existing compute, storage, and application assets.
It also means that traditional networking vendors will need to, at some point, expand their own reach across the infrastructure/application boundary. And the faster that Oracle moves, the more quickly those changes will play out.
None of this is lost on Cisco, by the way. At their Insieme coming-out party, CEO John Chambers didn’t talk about networking. His dialogue with analysts and reporters has consistently targeted Cisco’s objectives to be the leading IT company.
Two titans squaring off in a bout with stakes as large as the whole of IT spend will have repercussions for the entire industry.
- Selling motions will evolve, which will change infrastructure insertion. If the IT silos do in fact come down, then what triggers new infrastructure purchases? Today, infrastructure purchases are largely capacity-based. I need this many new servers, which will drive this much new storage and network capacity. But is it possible that you start to see application-led sales? I want to deploy this enterprise application for this many users across this many data centers. Over time, it is conceivable that supporting infrastructure is pulled through. Obviously, this won’t happen overnight, and it certainly won’t happen everywhere.
- Product bundling will match the selling motions. If the purchasing behavior is around these broader IT solutions, then vendors will start to bundle their products that way as well. This means that purchases at the largest enterprises become even more about volume purchase agreements. This makes life hard for anyone who is competing in the networking space on price. If the network is getting pulled along with compute, storage, and applications, the larger vendors can just drop the price contribution for networking gear, effectively negating any cost advantages. Blending margins across a portfolio (particularly one that includes software products) is common practice already.
- Differentiation will move from price to value. This is one of those Oh Duh! observations that ought to be happening anyway, but it is worth pointing out that if you are not competing at the overarching IT solution level, you better be offering value of some sort underneath. Being cheaper won’t cut it. You have to be able to demonstrate how you contribute to the broader IT experience. This should expand the double-Ex discussion from CapEx and OpEx to CapEx, OpEx, and AppEx (application experience).
- In solutions, orchestration of workflows and workloads is key. Once the universe moves to these broader solutions, there will be an even more urgent requirement to make all these disparate systems work together. This means that integration will become a major sales attack vector. For the big guys, this will shift a larger part of the competitive battle to professional services. How will a company like Oracle who has mastered the professional services business fare in a more technical environment? How will a company like Cisco that has mastered the technical side fare when they have to turn it into a stronger business? And what happens to systems integrators (looking at you, IBM) who will want to compete in the same space? For the smaller players, professional services can help mitigate risk, but it means that gear will need to be designed expressly with integration in mind. Any vendor who doesn’t talk in very explicit terms about this already is in trouble. You have to build integration in from the architectural beginnings; as a bolt-on, integration is not effective.
- The partner landscape will be interesting. If professional services are important for the larger customers, imagine the opportunity that exists for VARs in the mid-sized space? The VARs that are adding integration skills (orchestration, DevOps, and so on) will have a marked advantage over those who do not. There will be large VARs who will be put out of business because they failed to identify and evolve with the shifting sands.
- There will be some wildcard changes as well. I don’t know what they will be (they are wildcards, after all), but what happens to companies that typically lead these large IT transformation initiatives (Accenture, Deloitte, Infosys, PRTM, and so on)? Does this create more opportunity? Does this create more competition? Do they compete with the vendors they support?
- Where are IBM and SAP in all of this? It is probably unfair to call out IBM as they are active in OpenDaylight and have been pursuing DOVE for some time. But what happens to these giants if the battle shifts?
Those of us in the networking industry typically focus on our industry fairly exclusively. But disruption rarely occurs from within. If we are too insular, we will collectively miss the moves at the periphery, which could leave a lot of us out in the cold (even those of us who call the warm West Coast our home).
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