On the sidelines of recently held Avaya Technology Forum, Jean Turgeon, Vice President & Chief Technologist, Software Defined Architecture(SDA/SDN), Worldwide Sales, Avaya, spoke to us about the evolution of digital enterprise and networking trends.
The theme of this year’s Avaya Technology Forum has been digital transformation-as-a-service. Isn’t that stretching the concept too far?
No, I think it’s all about giving our customers choices. We’re not going to impose a deployment architecture; it’s all about us bringing technology that is adaptable to whatever is best for our customers. That’s what we mean by digital transformation as-a-service.
We want our customers to tell us what they want as a service – whether they want their cloud infrastructures to be private, public or hybrid. It doesn’t matter to us. The same technology that we bring from our communications platform with network and workflow automation can be deployed in whatever fashion they want. It’s pushing the envelope but it’s more about showing the flexibility that we bring to the market.
Technology is just one part of digital transformation. It’s also about business strategies and operational efficiencies, so how can you help your customers achieve digital transformation?
The key for us is our consultative sales model. It’s no longer just about software or platform upgrades; it’s also about understanding the customer’s business priorities.
So, operational efficiencies is key, and that aspect comes from a deep understanding of the business as opposed to just the IT side of things. In the past we used to have these two silos. What we want is to bring operational effectiveness to the IT world, then follow it with the right business processes. Bringing these two elements together is what we aim to continuously promote in the market. However, if you don’t this consultatively, then you might miss a step and end up just selling products and platforms as opposed to bringing more value from business strategies.
You also put emphasis on the move to a software-defined world – networks, data centres and so on. So, do you think the underlying infrastructure – the hardware – will just be a commodity?
No, never. I think too many vendors have been trying to commoditise hardware. Right now the areas of hardware like compute and storage are slowly being commoditised. But that is quite unfair to some of the new entrants. Look at the transition from traditional storage and compute to hyper-converged platforms now. You have new entrants that are transforming the way storage works, optimising and leveraging Ethernet transport to scale and deliver on linearity and scale. The same thing is true for Ethernet switching. An Ethernet port is just an Ethernet port. And this is why I keep talking to customers about SDN. Most customers want to buy software from one vendor and hardware from a different one. So I ask them what cost can they reduce from an Ethernet switch. I can build a 48 port switch with one ASIC. And I need power supply, fans, LEDs, Ethernet ports, power cords and so on. So, help me understand what can be commoditised beyond that?
Avaya said, 2016 is going to be the year for SDN. Do you think the technology will go mainstream this year?
The way we approach SDN has already been mainstream for the last 18 to 24 months, and this is where you’ll see this exponential endorsement of the technology. What we did differently is we looked at the business challenges that end-users hoped SDN can solve and we started documenting these things. These challenges include business continuity, enhanced security, automation, application profiling and so on. We started documenting these and there’s a series of 10 to 12 attributes that always come up. We took a look at all these and applied our technologies, we solved around 80 to 85 percent of those problems with our existing technology. So you don’t have to wait for SDN to become mainstream to be able to address these issues. What we are starting to see is, of course, the competition has to play that it’s a “tsunami” that’s happening. They’re trying to milk these revenues by convincing customers that buying a controller is going to be the holy grail of all your problems, which we don’t necessarily resist, but what we’re saying is “the path to SDN does not have to be just one particular vendor’s path.”
The path to it is to identify the business problems, apply technology solutions that solve those issues, then the piece that is really offers value proposition- application profiling – is very complex. Because now you need to have open APIs – from load balancers, firewalls, IDS/IPS, wireless controllers, SDC, policy engine and so on. So when will all of these vendors expose APIs in the same manner, so that the controller can control them all and what are the benefits. It is going to take a mindset transition in the marketplace before all of these things are consolidated and can be done with a single controller architecture.
Avaya said, SDN is going to be like a journey with the various technology components. Where do you get started? Do you need an Ethernet fabric to move to SDN?
We believe that we do, and more and more of our competitors are coming into the same conclusion. If you look at a recent announcement from a small vendor, they said that “we need to move to the next-generation architecture, the current one is not going to bring us to where we need to be.” We have been saying this for so many years now. Then in the same announcement they emphasised the need for automation over virtualised infrastructure. Well, the fabric virtualises not just the data centre but with SDN-Fx we virtualise the whole enterprise. I can virtualise my data centre, my campus and so on, over any WAN technology. Done, delivered, stamped and approved.
Do you think virtualisation eventually will come out of the data centre right to the edge of the network?
I totally believe that that is the best way to go. It has to be a mesh of open fabric architecture, it has to be servicing the application which is why we’re not resisting SDN. Because that’s what SDN says. The application has to take control of the network. We kind of modified slightly and said no, the applications have to be serviced by the network, which is slightly different as it’s not about control, its about servicing. We’ve already built the services and architecture that is fabric-based, agile, and has all kinds of attributes from security. So there’s a lot of benefits from the SDN-Fx architecture that differentiates us from the competition. But when you start hearing our competitors use the term fabric, without the fabric technology, you can see that we are having an impact in the marketplace.