Avaya the Disruptor

26 Aug 2013
It is an old yarn, significant changes in technology threaten the current sector leaders. Tesla just sold more cars in California than Porsche, Volvo, Cadillac, Jaguar, Buick and Land Rover. Dyson is or will soon be the king of vacuums. In enterprise voice Cisco and ShoreTel leveraged the transition to VoIP to become major players, and now Microsoft is using UC as its opportunity to play.

Nortel and Avaya, now one company, were the sector leaders, and the disruption of the digital PBX business was at their expense. But Avaya plays in multiple industries, and it intends to be the disruptor, right back at Cisco, with the imminent networking revolution.

This week Avaya announced its software defined data center (SDDC) framework. This is all about the impending disruption to networking. Avaya's SDDC framework is about virtualization, fabric switches, orchestration, and SDNs - all of which are conspiring against the status quo.

The data center has come a long way in the past decade or so - blade servers, virtualization, virtualization management tools, etc. Twenty years ago, the major data center was filled with big boxes, then came small boxes and networks, then came small boxes acting as one big box in operations. The technology changes and improvements are incredible, except in one area: the network.

The saying goes "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," but in the data center it isn't just one curtain, nor is it possible to ignore. There is a curtain for the storage folks, another for the processor folks, another for networking, and more for applications and other silos. Yes, silos, the modern data center works as one unit, but it takes a village.

In order to truly get all these distributed resources acting as one, there needs to be centralized orchestration. The elusive single pane of glass that controls all of these silos. Rebuilding the mainframe with multiple vendors, technologies, and architectures is not a trivial task. There are several emerging solutions, but OpenStack is building momentum (see OpenStack Turned 3). OpenStack offers an open architecture that multiple vendors can utilize, if they are willing - and most are.

Avaya intends to ride the OpenStack wave right into the data center by integrating its network solutions with the Openstack Quantum Project along with its FabricConnect switches, shortest path bridging (SPB), and open APIs for SDN capabilities.

One could argue that the network is the weak link holding back the data center. Virtualization enables dynamic reallocation of resources, but networks don't do well with rapid changes. Plus, cloud scale requires more capacity, and spanning tree protocol (STP) is inherently suboptimal because it doesn't allow network loops to exist. STP is unable to leverage the full capacity of a given network.

While there is general agreement on the need to virtualize networks, exactly how this gets done is still being contested. Cisco, VMware, and others have their own opinions. Avaya's approach is leveraging openness as its key.

Many don't even realize Avaya offers networking gear, it came with the Nortel merger. It offers some compelling benefits such as the split plane architecture for wireless LANs and strong support for metro Ethernet. Avaya has also been building its data center virtualization cred with its collaboration pods which combine Avaya's solutions with those from EMC and VMware. The pods offer virtualized UC and storage with advanced networking.

With advanced fabric switches, virtualized applications, and a commitment to OpenStack, Avaya is reasonably well positioned for its turn as the disruptor. Of course, it won't be simple, and there's a number of players at this game including VMware itself, Cisco, Juniper, and HP.