Can Avaya’s fabric-based SDN solutions convince?

Can Avaya’s fabric-based SDN solutions convince?

Two years ago, Avaya dismissed Software-Defined Networking (SDN). In a May 2013 in-house interview the firm’s chief architect, Paul Unbehagen, described SDN as “not new”, noted that network switches and routers already ran on software, and tried to promote the term “Application-Driven Networking” (ADN) instead.

History records that the market did not agree.

SDN’s continuing popularity with enterprises has seen Avaya left somewhat on the side-lines – despite the company’s insistence that its Fabric Connect networking range solves many of the problems SDN claims to tackle. Indeed, Fabric Connect is now seeing a dramatic increase in implementations, with a “hockey stick” curve in sales over the last 18 months.

According to Avaya, while it took around 10 quarters to achieve the first 50 deployments, it needed just three quarters for the next 50, and one quarter for the 50 after that. Now Fabric Connect is running at around one deployment per day, with 205 live deployments worldwide, and 15 in the Middle East.

But without an SDN offering of its own, it was becoming difficult for Avaya to make itself heard in one of the key areas for networking technology. Now, the networking firm is ready to make its move: this month will see the launch of Avaya’s SDN Fx range – the “Fx” highlighting the offering’s fabric-based heritage.

Jean Turgeon, VP and chief technologist for Software Defined Architecture at Avaya, acknowledges the networking firm needs to be visible in the SDN conversation: “Today when people Google SDN, our brand name does not come up at the top of the list – that’s what we want to change.

“As customers continue to believe that SDN is fundamentally the right solution for their future, and come to realise that we’re already solving 80-90% of the promises the competition is making, then we believe it’s going to grow our opportunities exponentially,” he adds.

The SDN Fx product ranges will include Fabric Extend, to stretch a network across WANs and public Internet, which is available today; Fabric Attach, to incorporate non-fabric switches into the architecture; and Fabric Orchestrate, which will allow a fabric-based network to interact with non-fabric infrastructure and other SDN controllers. The new products will enter beta testing in the next few months, and are slated for mid-year delivery to customers.

Turgeon is very insistent that Avaya’s approach to SDN is far superior to its competitors, and benefits from the firm’s different approach to networking infrastructure. Its fabric architecture, he says, already eliminates many of the issues other SDN vendors are still struggling to solve, thanks to its underlying simplicity and flexibility.

“What did Avaya do differently? We said: you have 12 protocols? Now you have one. We did not spend a minute trying to build a software-based controller, to build an abstraction layer – we eliminated all 12 protocols. We can build an entire network today with one protocol – nobody else can do that,” says Turgeon.

Avaya’s SDN advantages rest with price, interoperability and flexibility, according to Turgeon. Thanks to Broadcom’s inclusion of Avaya’s technology within its ASICs, the cost of a core fabric switch is now around $3,000 – and moving to a fabric architecture does not mean abandoning existing infrastructure.

“Most SDN positioning today, from our competitors, is a complete rip, which is not very cost-effective. If organisations are looking at lowering the TCO, it ain’t gonna happen in the next little while – because if they endorse SDN, first it’s a set of promises to get to simplification,” says Turgeon.

“We maintain interoperability with the legacy – the same nodes can run in fabric and in legacy mode simultaneously, so we have a transition and an evolution from the existing infrastructure, as opposed to a revolution or a complete forklift,” he adds.

He also makes a big play of Fabric Connect’s security features: “With our zones, we are no longer using VLAN technology – the zone is secured by default. No access control lists (ACLs). This zone cannot talk to any other zone – end of discussion. You cannot penetrate it, you cannot hack it, you cannot do anything to it.”

This also extends to BYOD, with Fabric Connect offering the ability to dynamically and automatically provision specified services for devices, and then withdraw them when a device disconnects. This approach eliminates several vulnerabilities, including the ability for a hacker to replay a session or reuse authentication tokens.

Avaya has made some bold claims for its fabric architecture in recent months, citing a customer survey’s findings that its architecture is 11 times faster to implement, seven times faster to configure, and with 100% elimination of outages due to human error. While it is easy to be sceptical of these numbers, Turgeon says he stands behind them – because they exceeded even Avaya’s internal numbers.

“If you look at reliability, customers came back and said on average they get 13 minutes of business outages when they get a network outage – the network may have recovered in 25 seconds, but the business has not. After fabric, 320 milliseconds. That’s better than what we expected – and in fact, when they started to say they hadn’t had an outage since they implemented fabric, you can’t ask for better,” he says.

With the launch of SDN Fx, Avaya is now formally a player in the SDN game. Analysts suggest it has a compelling offering – Zeus Kerravala told CRN this month the firm had “an excellent fabric story” and was a “dark horse” – but faces an uphill battle against giants such as Cisco in capturing major market share.

Read the full interview with Avaya’s Jean Turgeon, VP and chief technologist for Software Defined Architecture at Avaya, in the upcoming issue of Inside_Networks_ME

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