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Networking 2016: The Year In Review

  • The networking industry has been anything but dull for several years now and 2016 was no exception. Although the hype around software-defined networking has quieted, the industry continued to evolve at a rapid clip with the arrival of new technologies, companies and approaches to networking.

    There was seemingly no end to innovation, as this year saw a flurry of startups launch into the networking market with products that promise to revolutionize the industry. Boasting leadership with impressive track records, including pioneering work in software-defined networking, several of these new companies tout solutions for simplifying the job of designing and managing networks.

    Also this year, Facebook ramped up its homegrown approach to networking with a routing platform, a network troubleshooting system, and its second-generation modular switch platform. Facebook also kept sharing its networking designs so others can use them – its 100-gigabit Wedge switch was accepted by the Open Compute Project. While the impact of the internet giant's networking accomplishments on enterprise networking remains to be seen, there's no doubt that Facebook's trailblazing is rattling the traditional networking industry.

    While buzz around general SDN has quieted to more of a low hum perhaps tinged with some disillusionment, software-defined WAN grabbed the spotlight as industry pundits talked up its potential to streamline the tricky business of enterprise WANs. IDC believes the SD-WAN market will reach $6 billion in 2020 as enterprises look to streamline their WAN infrastructure as they transition to more cloud-based applications.

    Meanwhile, Cisco and Arista continued their legal battle, compromised IoT devices went on the attack, and the WLAN market continued to consolidate. Continue on to review some of the memorable developments in networking this year.

    (Image: Toria/Shutterstock)

  • Startups shine

    In June alone, four startups launched products claiming to transform networking for the better: Barefoot Networks, 128 Technology, Apstra, and SnapRoute. Last month, Forward Networks launched out of stealth using formal verification to model network behavior and help prevent outages. The startups boast impressive leadership and funding, but who knows which ones will manage to actually alter the networking landscape.

    (Image: geralt/Pixabay)

  • Facebook expands its custom approach

    Since it announced its 40-gigabit Wedge open top-of-rack switch in 2014, the internet giant has been on something of a networking tear. This year, Facebook debuted its custom NetNORAD network troubleshooting system for tracking down problems on its massive network, as well as its Open/R routing platform.

    At the same time, the company's 100-gigabit Wedge switch gained traction: The design was accepted into the Open Compute Project, but more significantly, the switch has made it into the market via Taiwan-based Edgecore Networks, a division of Accton, which networking expert Tom Hollingsworth described as a leader in white-box networking. Recently, Facebook debuted its Backpack modular switch platform.

    "Facebook is blazing a trail for fast ToR switches," Hollingsworth wrote in a blog post. "They’ve got the technical chops to build what they need and release the designs to the rest of the world to be used for a variety of ideas. Granted, your data center looks nothing like Facebook. But the ideas they are pioneering are having an impact down the line."

    Oh, and Facebook also is building – in partnership with Google -- a high-speed transpacific submarine cable system between Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

    (Image source: Facebook)

  • SD-WAN

    The software-defined WAN market continued to gain steam this year as industry analysts reported growing adoption and service providers jumped into the space by teaming with SD-WAN vendors.

    "The SD-WAN segment is still small—$33 million worldwide in H1 2016—but it continues to gain momentum with the recent entry of tier-1 service providers including AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, BT, SingTel and Sprint," Cliff Grossner, a senior research director at IHS Markit said in a recent research note. "It has been aided as well by a string of announcements from tier-2 operators such as Vonage, EarthLink, MetTel and TelePacific. SD-WAN is poised to accelerate, growing above 90% per year to 2020."

    The plethora of SD-WAN vendors has industry experts pondering an upcoming market shakeout.

    (Image: geralt/Pixabay)

  • IoT-fueled DDoS attacks

    Security experts have longed warned of vulnerable consumer and embedded devices making up the Internet of Things. The fears were underscored on Oct. 21, when a distributed denial-of-service attack via infected DVRs, surveillance cameras, and other devices crippled a chunk of the internet's domain name system. Officials at DNS provider Dyn later confirmed that the Mirai botnet of infected IoT devices was the culprit; Mirai also was behind the DDoS attack on the KrebsOnSecurity website.

    The attack on Dyn no doubt served as a wake-up to anyone who may have downplayed the lack of IoT security. The question now is how fast the industry will respond.

    (Image: geralt/Pixabay)

  • Cisco vs. Arista

    Cisco and arch rival Arista Networks continued to wage battle this year over the patent infringement lawsuit Cisco filed against Arista in late 2014. In June, Cisco won a major round when the US International Trade Commission ruled that Arista violated three Cisco patents and banned an import ban on Arista's infringing products. Then last month, Arista claimed victory when US Customs and Border Protection allowed sale of its redesigned products in the US, ruling that Arista's redesigned Extensible Operating System products don't fall within the scope of the ITC limited exclusion order. This patent fight is far from over; Cisco said it's still awaiting ITC action involving additional patents it claims Arista infringes. Cisco also has filed copyright claims against Arista.

    (Image: j4p4n/openclipart)

  • Cisco restructures

    In August, Cisco announced a restructuring plan that cuts 5,500 positions as it focuses on evolving into a software and services company. The restructuring came after an executive shakeup under CEO Chuck Robbins, who succeeded longtime Cisco CEO John Chambers in 2015. In June, high-profile executives Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero, and Soni Jiandani left Cisco. Known collectively as MPLS, they were instrumental in Cisco's "spin-in" strategy that produced technology like ACI.

    Under Robbins, the always-acquisitive Cisco struck some major deals this year, including acquiring IoT cloud platform company Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion. The company also boosted its software strategy with the acquisitions of CliQr and ContainerX.

    (Image source: Cisco)

  • VMware NSX and Cisco ACI truce?

    VMware and Cisco have long sparred over their respective SDN platforms, but this year their relationship appeared to thaw. In an interview with CRN, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins spoke of teams talking "about where there might be points that balance the competitive nature of the partnership…." VMware has made similar comments about potential cooperation, according to Mike Fratto, principal analyst at Current Analysis, who blogged that integration between ACI and NSX is long overdue.

    "What I do know is that by not working together on SDN and both sides encouraging a mentality of ACI vs. NSX, the two companies have driven a wedge between what combined they can offer together and what customers want," he wrote.

    (Image: geralt/Pixabay)

  • WLAN market consolidation

    The wireless networking market continued to contract this year with two acquisitions: Brocade bought Ruckus Wireless for about $1.2 billion and Extreme Networks acquired Zebra Technologies' WLAN business for $55 million. That doesn't leave many standalone WLAN vendors, however Ruckus is back on the market with the $5.9 billion acquisition of Brocade by chipmaker Broadcom. Broadcom said it plans to retain Brocade's Fibre Channel SAN switching business, but sell its IP networking business including Ruckus.

    (Image: jhnri4/openclipart)

  • The changing role of the network engineer

    For a few years now, there's been a lot of speculation about the future of the network engineer with the rise of SDN, network automation, and cloud. This year's Interop conference spotlighted the engineer's changing role, including a presentation by network software developer Matt Oswalt, who stressed the importance of understanding fundamentals such as algorithms and Linux, and recommended networking pros write Python scrips to automate redundant tasks. Keynote speaker Martin Casado, general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, described a future in which developer skills and culture will transform the entire IT market.

    Gartner recently predicted that by 2020, the command-line interface will no longer be the main tool for enterprise network operations teams.