- Networks and networking suffer from a lack of respect that defies logic.
- Innovation continues apace, however, the industry often fails to give these advances the attention they deserve.
Networks and the stuff that make them work are suffering from a dearth of respect to which even Rodney Dangerfield would have to defer. Sure, we all know that it is lunacy to dismiss the value of both private and public networks because the quality of experience is utterly dependent on the quality of the network connections. This is a stone-cold fact, whether we are talking about a teenager looking at YouTube videos on a smartphone, or a business running mission-critical applications.
Yet while networks and networking have never been truly glamorous, there is a perceptible downward trend in love for the stuff of connectivity. It has long been the case, for example, that the hottest, most admired Internet businesses take public and private networks for granted and ride roughshod over them with something approaching complete disdain. If Facebook is sluggish, you don’t blame Facebook, do you?.
Additionally, for the second year running our rather large study of enterprise deployment plans has demonstrated quite clearly that when it comes to cloud services the dead-last type of company they think of is network operators. It’s rather funny when you think about it, given that the cloud doesn’t exist without the network. But it speaks volumes about how operators are perceived within enterprise IT shops. So to this end, we’re seeing operators that happily make most of their money from network services working very hard to position themselves as IT suppliers – to move “up the stack,” which itself puts one in the mind of an ascendency from the muck.
And, recently, even Cisco—the biggest lover of networking the world has ever seen for obvious financial reasons—neglected to mention networking much at a recent conference promoting its collaboration solutions. This, to be sure, was simply a messaging oversight as the company positions itself for battle with competitors far better known for application software; indeed, all the appropriate references to architecture and network capability were there if you looked for them. But Cisco’s approach did make me smile and shake my head a bit. Networks aren’t people, but if they were, you’d have to feel a bit sorry for them.
Here’s the thing: they may be underappreciated; networks may be unloved and only even noticed when they underperform or fail; and they may even be abused by over-the-top application providers too busy tabulating their valuations to care. But networks do matter, and in a big way. Despite my perception that networking is taking a kicking in the marketplace, it is hotter than ever as a way to differentiate and improve competitiveness. To cite just two examples of why this is the case, I can point to next-generation, virtualized data centers, which are being driven by a new wave of networking innovation, and also to software-defined networking (SDN), which is emerging as a potentially transformational approach for both enterprises and operators.
So, far from fading into obscurity, the network will remain a critical foundational element for IT strategy going forward. Whether the industry is conscious of the network’s criticality is another story.