Best Of Interop 2014 Winners Unveiled

The Best of Interop award recognizes innovation in nine categories, including networking, storage, cloud, and security.

April 1, 2014

17 Min Read
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With 129 entries this year, the Best of Interop judging team was once again fortunate to be challenged with examining a wide variety of progressive and innovative products. We chose to mix things up a little from the start, so you may have noticed that for 2014 we decided to give storage its own category, separate from data center, and added a whole new SDN category to better cover the innovations in these important technologies. We hope you approve.

Our winners this year are a strong line-up of some of the smartest technologies introduced since last year's Interop Las Vegas, and we had some lively debate among the crew when it came to the difficult task of choosing the overall Grand Award winner. We had strong candidates, but when the smoke cleared, we all felt really great about this year’s top product. What made it perhaps the most intriguing and compelling choice in years was the fact that the Grand Award will be going to not one vendor, but instead to the tangible results of an open-source collaborative project formed by the top companies in networking, stewarded by The Linux Foundation, and focused on cooperatively advancing the goals of SDN.

Our Grand Prize winning product is undoubtedly in the early stages of development, but what really gives us the greatest sense of pride in this choice is the teamwork among vendors that made it possible. The very legacy of the Interop show itself has at its core the spirit of interoperability, a noble premise that has defined Ethernet networking from the start and that we believe everyone in this industry should embrace and applaud. Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly bring you the top products of Interop 2014. – Steven Hill, Lead Judge, Best of Interop 2014

Grand Award and SDN Winner

OpenDaylight - Hydrogen

Judges: Mike Fratto, Principal Analyst, Enterprise Network Systems, Current Analysis

Ethan Banks, Founder, Packet Pushers Interactive, LLC

OpenDaylight Hydrogen wins the SDN category and overall Best of Interop because it not only embodies a strong product, but also represents what can occur with industry-wide collaboration. Hydrogen is a modular SDN controller that can support any number of southbound interfaces to control both hardware and software networking products as well as northbound interfaces accessible to a variety of SDN-minded applications.

With Hydrogen, vendors, open source developers, enterprises, service providers, or any end user who wishes to invest the time can unlock the power of SDN and NFV. OpenDaylight enables innovation in SDN with far-reaching impact, because developers can focus on building applications that leverage SDN, leaving the mechanics of carrying out programmatic instructions to Hydrogen and its successors.

Already, OpenDaylight has seen integration from vendors as diverse as Cisco, ConteXtream, IBM, Inocybe, and Microsoft; more vendors have promised integration in the future. The Open Daylight Summit was a sold-out event with many standing room only sessions. This demonstrates great interest in the project from not only vendors, but also enterprises and service providers. While Hydrogen is still in the early stages of development, there are three editions available for download and installation aimed at specific audiences to get them up and running quickly. Support is available via a wiki, a number of active mailing lists, and IRC channels occupied by developers around the world.

The other two finalists, Cisco’s APIC and VMware’s NSX, were strong contenders in their own right, clearly offering solid SDN solutions, and they will be able to attract a number of integration partners, but OpenDaylight’s nature as an open source project offers more open and inclusive potential than any single vendor’s product. – Mike Fratto

Cloud Winner

VMware - vCloud Hybrid Service

Judges: Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, InformationWeek

David Linthicum, Founder, Blue Mountain Labs

The basic attributes of VMware's vCloud Hybrid Service are well known. They include provisioning virtual servers and other resources in one of VMware's four vCloud Hybrid Service data centers, initiating workloads there and managing those workloads, much as a customer might initiate a workload on the Amazon, Rackspace or GoGrid. All of that is just catch-up work. But VMware has done the hard work of making vCloud not just another cloud service, but one that mirrors and interoperates with the enterprise's virtualized data center.

VMware dominates virtualization in the data center and provides about 80% of the virtualization software in the enterprise market, so there's no surprise here. The achievement is in how relentlessly and thoroughly it's done so. A customer doesn't just initiate a workload under the VMware hypervisor in the cloud; he initiates one, when desired, that's identical to the one running in his data center. The network characteristics are the same. The policies on the firewall and other security measures are the same.

To the system administrator in the enterprise, the new workload may be in the cloud, but it's managed from a familiar vCenter management console and it looks and acts just like those across the data center floor. In particular, VMware’s efforts to virtualize the network and assign it as a flexible resource to a virtual machine at the moment of creation means a system administrator can stretch layer 2 and/or layer 3 networks seamlessly from the data center to vCloud Hybrid Service without the need for manual configuration changes.

In the past, moving the workload has been possible into a public cloud, but that necessitated using different tools and monitoring systems and setting up networking on the cloud provider's terms. VMware is making it possible to extend the server, networking and storage envelope inside the data center out into the public cloud, making it an extension of the enterprise. – Charles Babcock

Data Center Winner

Cisco - Nexus 9516 Switch

Judges: Steven Hill, Senior Analyst, Data Center Solutions, Current Analysis

Howard Marks, Chief Scientist, Deep Storage.Net

The data centers of the future will only get more dense and task-focused, and this means that more and more will be expected of the high-performance networks that keep everything flowing. But today, it’s not all about horsepower, it’s about density and flexibility and keeping your options open as technology changes around us. The new Nexus 9516 in the 9000-series family from Cisco is truly an impressive example of next-generation thinking from a company we’ve come to expect it from.

The top-of-the-line Nexus 9516 is a 22RU supercar of a data center switch with room for 16 line cards, six fabric modules and nine high-efficiency power supplies. Delivering up to 2,304 ports of 10GbE, or 576 ports of 40GbE (even 1GbE and eventually 100GbE); this monster of a switch was independently tested using all 576x40GbE ports concurrently at full line rate and it passed with flying colors and zero dropped packets. But 9516’s beauty goes beyond pure performance; the 60Tbps-capable, mid-plane free chassis design offers a remarkable new degree of flexibility when it comes to mixing and matching front-facing line cards with rear-facing fabric cards to better meet your specific network performance and topology requirements.

But that’s not all there is to flexibility these days; you also need to take into account the advances being made in SDN technology. With that particular market still in the process of sorting itself out, the 9516 is capable of operating in stand-alone mode, as well as supporting multiple forms of management automation, programmatic policy and dynamic workload-anywhere models. Yet another force to be reckoned with will be Cisco’s emerging Application Centric Infrastructure, a feature that will be available soon on the entire 9000-series, but that’s a different conversation for another time.

At first blush, the Nexus 9516 really seems to share the pedigree of the venerated Catalyst 6500 in the nature of its future-proof design and modular flexibility. The one major difference in this iteration of the Nexus line is Cisco’s use of Broadcom ASICs in combination with its own custom chips, a marriage that results in line cards with substantially fewer components, higher port densities, increased power efficiency and lower costs -- something for everyone to love. From everything we’ve seen so far, the Cisco Nexus 9516 may well be the standard by which future data center switches will be judged, and is our well-deserved Data Center category winner for 2014. – Steven Hill

NEXT: Management, mobility, and networking winners


Management Winner

NEC - Unified Network Coordinator

Judges: Drew Conry-Murray, Director of Content & Community, Interop

Marcia Savage, Managing Editor, Network Computing

Discussions of SDN architecture generally refer to the controller as a single entity. However, real-world deployments will likely mean the presence of multiple controllers, whether for standalone “SDN pods” inside brownfield data centers, or controllers that will be clustered for both performance and availability. Larger organizations with more than one data center may also have controllers in different geographical locations.

You can see where this is going: a need will emerge to manage and enforce policies and configurations across multiple controllers. Enter NEC’s Unified Network Coordinator, which acts as a kind of controller of controllers. UNC can configure multiple ProgrammableFlow controllers at the same time, including controllers within the same data center and in separate data centers, and instantiate policies across multiple domains.

The UNC can redirect traffic if a controller becomes unreachable, and the UNC itself can run an active/standby cluster. The company says a single UNC can coordinate up to 10 ProgrammableFlow controllers, 2,000 switches, 100,000 VLANs and 10 million flows. UNC runs on a standard Linux server. NEC says the Unified Network Coordinator can serve as a data center interconnect that allows for flow-based management of traffic across WAN links. Organizations can use the UNC to support application and workload mobility between geographically separate data centers, which opens up use cases for high availability and business continuity/disaster recovery.

At present, UNC only works with NEC’s own ProgrammableFlow platform, which is a limitation, but not unusual for a first-generation release. The company says it’s working to integrate with third-party controllers. – Andrew Conry-Murray

Mobility Winner

Dell - Enterprise Mobility Management

Judges: Drew Conry-Murray, Director of Content & Community, Interop

Chris Hazelton, Research Director, Mobile & Wireless, 451 Research, LLC

Dell’s Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) aims to solve the BYOD challenge by throwing as wide a net as it can around both smartphones and that most old-fashioned of mobile devices—the laptop (desktops too). EMM can manage cloud clients, mobile apps, as well as any corporate or employee- owned devices. It covers a range of OSs: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows, and Windows Phone.

EMM consists of four components. They include Dell Mobile Workspace and Dell Desktop Workspace, which creates secure containers for corporate data and applications on smartphones and PCs. These containers include email, calendar and contacts features, and a secure browser for remotely accessing corporate applications. It also includes a file explorer for document creation and editing, as well as downloads. It supports Office formats, and can encrypt files with AES 256.

Dell Mobile Management provides policy management and enforcement on mobile devices, including PIN code requirements, jailbreak protection and remote wipe. Dell KACE K1000 As a Service is a cloud-based management instance. It includes inventory and patch management, configuration management and security auditing. All four components can be licensed individually, or in various bundles. The components are managed from a single console.

Dell’s capabilities don’t necessarily break new ground; IT can stitch together similar features from a variety of vendors. That said, Dell’s comprehensive approach makes for a practical, integrated set of tools. It’s an end-to-end offering that few competitors can match. - Andrew Conry-Murray

Networking Winner

Cisco - ISR 4451-X Converged Branch Infrastructure Solution

Judges: Kurt Marko, Contributing Editor, InformationWeek and Network Computing

Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst, 451 Research, LLC

Convergence has been a persistent theme at Interop for several years, yet it's typically been applied to data center infrastructure, such as blade servers, consolidated storage and data networks and converged network adapters. Cisco was a pioneer in data center convergence with its UCS servers and network devices, an integrated suite of hardware and software that can significantly simplify the deployment and management of cloud-scale infrastructure. With the ISR-4451X branch office router platform, Cisco is applying UCS technology and know-how to network appliances and transforming a product line that began as a way to connect remote sites to corporate networks and the Internet into a small-scale data center in a box...a very small, 2U box.

The new ISR 4451-X marries technology from UCS servers, the Catalyst 3500-series switch, and the legacy ISR router platforms into a package that can serve multiple roles: WAN router, gateway security and WAN optimization appliance, application server and unified communications hub with support for VoIP call processing and voicemail services. The product's innovative hardware design splits the control and data planes between two multi-core CPUs: a quad-core Xeon E3 and a 10-core Cavium MIPS device handling the data flow. The data plane processor feeds a fabric controller with more than 50Gb of switching bandwidth. Network services, like WAN optimization (WAAS) and L4 firewall run as containerized VMs, meaning they can be updated or crash without affecting the rest of the system.

Befitting a multi-purpose workhorse, the ISR 4451-X can host a wide variety of expansion modules and network interfaces, including: popular WAN protocols (T1/E1, T3/E3, xDSL, carrier Ethernet), a Catalyst 3500-based LAN switch and a single socket, quad core UCS-E-series server supporting two internal drives, up to 16GB RAM and three Gigabit Ethernet ports (one external, two internal). The 4451's modular flexibility is supported by a scalable hardware design with plenty of CPU headroom that maintains rated packet throughput of 1 or 2 Gbps (depending on the model) as additional network services are enabled.

The 4451-X is poised to address the gap between networking functions that are fully virtualized and those that are still embedded in dedicated networking devices. While edge devices with varying degrees of virtualization have preceded it, Cisco has exploited its UCS expertise to meld the traditional networking features of its branch platform with a general-purpose compute engine, opening the door to levels of integration that allow a blurring of where computing ends and networking begins. As organizations transition to greater virtualization of applications and network services, as embodied by NFV, the 4451-X will facilitate the shift and could serve as a model for future converged hardware designs. - Kurt Marko

NEXT: Performance, security, storage and best startup winners

Performance Winner

Spirent Avalanche NEXT

Judges: Mike Fratto, Principal Analyst, Enterprise Network Systems, Current Analysis

Ethan Banks, Founder, Packet Pushers Interactive, LLC

Spirent’s Avalanche NEXT wins in the performance category, because we believe it has finally brought application performance testing capabilities into the realm of traditional IT. Performance load testing has historically been a complex and costly process, because building and verifying the test bed, defining the tests, and interpreting the results required expertise in a variety of disciplines. Avalanche NEXT packages performance and security tests into ready-to-use profiles, creating both the client and server networks and hosts, a functionality which greatly simplifies test generation and execution. With an ongoing subscription, users can download new tests from Spirent as they are made available.

Avalanche NEXT users can also create custom tests based on packet captures that will analyze the packet capture and generate a test scenario with the capability to edit the resulting testing, including changing protocol timings and protocol mixes. NEXT can also be used for protocol fuzzing, a technique of manipulating protocols in abnormal, unexpected ways to test how the target device reacts. Avalanche NEXT tests can be created and modified using a well-designed GUI with intuitive controls.

Tests can be shared among the customer’s team, allowing experts in networking or security to build specific tests that others can use in a repeatable fashion. There is also a full API so that tests can be defined and executed programmatically. Avalanche NEXT is well suited for testing network infrastructure supporting applications, providing excellent ease of use, flexibility, and predictability. Avalanche brings complex testing within reach of the average enterprise. – Mike Fratto

Security Winner

SpectorSoft - Spector 360 Recon

Judges: Tim Wilson, Editor, Dark Reading

John Pironti, President, IP Architects, LLC

Since the release of sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks two years ago -- followed by the even larger release of national security documents by NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year -- enterprises have been enormously aware of the dangers of insider data leaks. Enterprises understand that they need a better way to monitor employee activity and restrict the distribution of sensitive information, but they are also reluctant to play the role of Big Brother, making employees uncomfortable by tracking their every move and robbing them of any privacy they might have while on the corporate network.

Enter Spector 360 Recon, a new approach to protecting corporate data from insider theft that also provides some level of privacy for the employee. Like products that preceded it, Spector 360 offers the ability to monitor employee activity at a highly granular level, and even offers video-like screen captures that show a user’s actions, including the systems, applications, file shares, websites, and databases that a particular user has been accessing.

Unlike previous user monitoring tools, however, Spector 360 Recon logs user activity in a secure “black box” for 30 days, encrypting the data so that it cannot be casually observed by IT staff. When suspicious activities are detected, early warning alerts are generated, and the organization has the power to decide whether or not further review is necessary -- and specifically who should have access to the information. This preserves the privacy of users who have not given their organization reason to believe they are a threat, while ensuring that the organization will be warned if a user is consistently breaking policy or engaging in activities that might suggest malicious or dangerous activity.

While the judges reviewed many great new products for this year’s security awards, Spector 360 Recon seemed particularly groundbreaking, in that it solves a critical, high-profile security problem – tracking user activity to prevent data leaks while also solving a sensitive, problematic IT problem: protecting user privacy in the enterprise. The resolution of both these problems in an affordable, safe manner makes Spector 360 Recon a two-pronged groundbreaker -- and the clear winner in this year’s security category competition. – Tim Wilson

Storage Winner

VMware - VSAN

Judges: Howard Marks, Chief Scientist, Deep Storage.Net

Steven Hill, Senior Analyst, Data Center Solutions, Current Analysis

VMware’s VSAN is the standard bearer for a new class of storage solutions that promise to revolutionize how the world buys storage. Taking its cue from the Web 2.0 world of hyperscale datacenters, VSAN promises to replace the expensive centralized storage arrays using custom ASICs that have ruled the storage roost for the past two decades.

VSAN, which runs directly in the VMware ESXi hypervisor, takes the flash SSD and spinning disk installed in a cluster of ESXi servers into a single shared pool of hybrid storage. This eliminates not only the storage array itself, but also the complexity of connecting the ESXi hosts to a dedicated SAN. As in hyperscale storage systems like Hadoop and Google’s GFS, VSAN provides data protection by replicating virtual disk files across multiple hosts in the cluster rather than relying on RAID.

While similar technology has been available in the so called hyper-converged systems from Nutanix, ScaleComputing and Simplivity, VSAN and the other emerging server SAN products deliver this distributed storage without locking users into specific hardware configurations. – Howard Marks

Best Startup Winner


Judges: Steven Hill, Senior Analyst, Data Center Solutions, Current Analysis

Andrew Conry-Murray, Director of Content & Community, Interop

A relative newcomer to the management market, Connecticut-based Basic6 offers an interesting, intuitive and inexpensive approach for managing resources in the data center, on the ground and in the cloud. Its agent-less solution is designed to provide single-pane-of-glass visibility and control over servers, cloud resources, user accounts and even Windows, Linux, and Macintosh-based end user systems. Basic6's first product was released in April 2013 and features a Microsoft Management Console, SSH server management, Amazon Web Services access, command line or GUI interfaces, and a file management system that supports drag and drop.

The Best Startup category is all about small new companies with big ideas, and Basic6’s goal is to help you tame of the many-headed beast made up of cloud resources, server systems, user devices and embedded endpoint technologies that are challenging IT managers of today. Don’t believe us? Well, the Basic6 product is currently available for anyone to test in the form of a download from the company's website. We all know that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and there’s nothing like testing a product for free in your own environment to establish its potential value to your company. Sometimes a big idea can be smaller than you might think. – Steven Hill

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