Avaya Charts a Course for Interop

Tim Titus is an innovator and problem-solver in the enterprise networking space. The founder of PathSolutions, a data and VoIP network monitoring solution, Tim took the time to speak with me about how PathSolutions is uniquely paired with Avaya technology as a core component of the Interop trade show in Las Vegas, which is being prepped for in Brisbane, Calif.

Matt Young: Give me a bit about your background and how you founded PathSolutions.

Tim Titus: I’ve been a network engineer for about 25 years. I’ve worked for a variety of companies from large semiconductor firms to small startups. As far as founding PathSolutions, I got frustrated about the fact that network folks don’t really know what their network is doing. This is the whole reason most users call the experts.

Tim Titus

They ask the network guys to solve the problem, and the network guys aren’t even aware of what’s happening on their network. They say, “Here, let me look into that,” but most of the time they can’t even solve the problem, except it’s someone’s job to catch this and fix it. They’re supposed to know this stuff.

Saying, “Hey, let’s unplug things,” doesn’t really work in an enterprise environment. It’s making guesses about what the problem might be, and you can’t operate a business like that. You need facts. We founded the company on that; getting additional information on the network, so network engineers can see the entire network. That’s been the disconnect – where they couldn’t get the information on something they’re responsible for.

MY: Which could be bad considering the importance of communication in any field, especially enterprise.

TT: We have been focused on the VoIP market space, because a bad phone call means a lost sale and a failure to communicate your intention. You can’t have a leadership meeting with a bad phone call, because no one will get what the leader is trying to say; what the direction is.

Bad phone calls are a thing other companies try to solve, but they can’t solve, because they don’t know what the network is doing. With our solution, we actually know what the network is doing, and we have the root cause definition in a plain-English answer.

We did a partnering with a number of phone equipment manufacturers, and Avaya is one of the key players in our book, and the Avaya customer base said, “This is fantastic! You can finally solve the root cause of the problem!” There’s no more guessing. It’s the unknowns that are going to create problems.

We can say, “That call that you had 20 minutes ago? The reason it was bad is port number five on the finance switch was dropping 18 percent of its packets due to a bad cable.” That tells you exactly what went wrong so you can get the problem solved, and it’s easy to understand.

The Show Before the Show

MY: I know you have quite a bit going on with PathSolutions and are gearing up for the Interop trade show. How is it going on getting everything set up? I know you just had a big demo event to show off the tech.

TT: We had this demo run where folks can come and look at the network and see how things have been built; how things are plugged in. It’s a really good showcase for Avaya since it’s at the heart of the show and can demonstrate what’s going on with a lot of really nice equipment.

Event Photo 2

The other week in Brisbane, all selected companies came together and started to connect the network and get all of the configuration work accomplished. It’s pretty amazing to have the experts from different companies all come together and get a fully functioning high-performing network operational – all in two weeks.

Equipment was rack-mounted and plugged in. Then the equipment was configured to move traffic according to the right set of rules to provide for security, fault-tolerance, and performance. During this time, PathSolutions was available to help provide visibility into what was working, and what was not.

Avaya’s hardware collects the measurement information on all of the fiber optic links throughout the entire network. Their switches and routers collect this information, but it’s stuck on the devices.

PathSolutions collects that information from all those switches, and says, “Here is what your fiber-optic cabling is doing” as far as performance, with transmit power; receive power. The benefit of that is anywhere you have a problem with your fiber-optic cabling, we’re going to be able to tell you, “Hey, you’ve got a problem with this one section of cabling. Go check that out with your fiber-optic test equipment.

What’s unique is other vendors can’t do this. They don’t collect this information on the networking equipment. We’re the only product configured to pull this information off these Avaya devices, and that makes a really unique pairing. If there’s any problem with your fiber-optic cable plan, between Avaya and PathSolutions, we’ve got this nailed.

MY: Well, it sounds like it’s all coming together with both a great idea and execution, which benefits everyone along the line. What’s the next step on the road to Interop?

TT: We have the configuration and testing done so we can have all of the pre-configured network equipment shipped to Las Vegas. It should arrive in Vegas a few days before the show opens, and we will be scrambling to connect everything to the show floor and verify that everything is fully operational before the show opens on March 31st.

Avaya at the Core

MY: So with the behind-the-scenes prep work wrapping up, you can look forward to the main event. How will PathSolutions and the Avaya tech be deployed in that environment? What are some of the demands and challenges for that real-time event?

TT: Avaya is doing the core of Interop, the world’s largest multi-vendor networking convention. It means they’re really at the heart of the show.

A network is set up to provide Internet access to all booths and conference sessions, as well as public Wi-Fi for all attendees. Providing network access for all of these vendors and attendees can be a pretty complex task, as it requires a high-performance, ultra-reliable network to be designed, and built just prior to the show.

You can’t just show up with network equipment and expect to be part of the network – In January, companies submitted proposals for network designs and management tools that would be a part of Interop 2014. A few select companies were chosen due to their technological advancements and unique offerings.

Event Photo 3

PathSolutions was selected to monitor the stability and performance of the network (all links and devices). We are showcasing our dynamic network map, identifying what is operational and what is broken within seconds of the outage. Faster identification of the problem means faster resolution of the problem.

Avaya was chosen to support the core of the network, and provide all show floor access. They are showcasing their latest capabilities with Shortest Path Bridging (SPB). Cisco is effectively a couple of years behind the game because they don’t have a working production deployment, whereas Avaya has had SPB working at both the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi winter Olympics, as well as the last four Interop shows.

This proves that it’s been a very steady, reliable technology. Folks can feel comfortable looking into adopting this technology due to its proven stability, and because Cisco doesn’t have a proven solution yet. Avaya’s way ahead of the game.

MY: Have you been working together from the ground up on coming up with these solutions?

TT: For the past two years, yes. We’ve been an Avaya DevConnect partner and working together on some of this stuff. I’ll admit – it’s fun digging into this because we have something that’s new and unique and incredibly beneficial.

Less Experts, but Better Tools

MY: Now, in addition to the big applications, this also can obviously benefit the “average Joe” who is in over his head trying to squash network bugs and problems. Ten years ago, you probably had fewer people who had knowledge of networks and how they functioned, while there are probably a lot more staff now who are multi-tasking outside of specific engineers and techs. Are more of the rank-and-file dabbling and getting involved in network operations?

TT: You’re 100 percent correct. You used to have a small handful of experts. Now, a lot of companies don’t want to pay these experts, so they’ve shuttered them off of their payroll and said, “We want to hire generalists.”

Event Photo 1

These are less expensive, but the jack-of-all-trades are doing servers and networks and telephony, and they can only go skin-deep in any one piece of technology and so that makes it difficult for them to solve problems, unless they have the right tools.

My argument is, we get plain-English answers in front of folks so they can really be that expert without a whole lot of training. That’s actually part of our “secret sauce.” We have ten years of analysis baked into the product, so you have a plain-English answer of what the problem is, which means you can have your help-desk-level people solve these problems. Previously, you’d have to have that expert analyze it.

MY: How much work was it taking all of this information which has been in the techno-babble land and making it accessible to the layman?

TT: That’s actually part of our “secret sauce.” We have ten years of analysis baked into the product, so you have a plain-English answer of what the problem is, which means you can have your help-desk-level people solve these problems. Previously, you’d have to have that expert analyze it.

A parallel I’d like to draw here is to cars. In the days of old, you’d take your car in, saying, “It’s a little rough. What’s wrong?” The shop would have their seasoned, expert mechanic come out and spend two hours checking things and eventually they would come back and say, “You’ve got a problem with sparkplug number two.”

Nowadays, you have this high school kid come and plug this box into the dash. They press the red button and it prints out this report saying to replace sparkplug number two. That’s what we’re doing to networks. That instant diagnosis makes it a very cost-efficient affair, and there are resellers targeting smaller companies, opening up completely new markets.

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Hottest Products at Interop 2015? Avaya Tops the Charts!

If you’re looking for the hottest products from Interop 2015, look no further than Avaya! Our Open Networking Adapter and ERS 5900 Series charted on Network World’s top 25 “Hottest Products at Interop 2015” list.

And it’s certainly no surprise. Customers who have heard the pitch are abuzz with all things Avaya since the announcement of our leading-edge Avaya SDN Fx™ architecture.

Avaya SDN Fx™ takes a very different approach than existing technologies by enabling a complete end-to-end Software Defined Networking (SDN) solution. It all begins with an automated core powered by network-wide Fabric Connect technology (the “F” in SDN Fx), and ends with a fully-enabled edge. A powerful set of affiliated technologies (the “x” in SDN Fx) act as the glue, integrating the automation of the core with the opportunities at the edge and delivering simplicity everywhere.

The products that caught Network World’s attention – the Open Networking Adapter and ERS 5900 Series – deliver major business value by bringing companies closer to engaging the Internet of Things.

It’s estimated that by 2020, at least 30 billion total devices will be connected, nearly 3X the number that exists today. As the Internet of Things exponentially expands, these solutions become more and more critical to a forward-thinking, innovative business strategy.

Key quotes from Network World:

About the ONA: “Provides instant network identity to any device with an Ethernet port including medical devices, manufacturing equipment, kiosks, and branch offices. The pocket-sized appliance leverages commercial, off the shelf processing with an Open Virtual Switch (OVS), Avaya extensions and SDN Control to extend the power and flexibility of SDN to any Ethernet-enabled device or location.”

About the ERS 5900 Series: “Providing high-performance, convergence-ready, resilient and secure Ethernet switching connectivity. Supporting Avaya’s innovative Fabric technology, it delivers virtual fabric services to the network edge/wiring closet environment.”

Check out the full slideshow: http://www.networkworld.com/article/2914749/data-center/hottest-products-at-interop-2015.html#slide11

Why We're Joining the OpenDaylight Project

Interior design, gardening, and marketing all share a rule stating that individual elements seem more balanced when they are grouped in threes.  While home décor, gardens, and marketing are interesting, for me, they don’t hold my attention like a good technology discussion. Let’s borrow the rule to understand why Avaya joined the OpenDaylight Project.

So, why is Avaya good for OpenDaylight?

  • Real-Time Applications Depth: Few companies have as deep an understanding of business communications and collaboration as Avaya. When industry pundits hold forth on the benefits of SDN, it’s those gained from real-time applications that are usually at the top of the list. Avaya will represent the industry well.
  • An Innovative Culture must thrive in a project like OpenDaylight. Not only has Avaya been an innovator for over 30 years in networking through acquisitions and organic development, but Avaya has shown that they are consistent in delivering the best technology possible, period.
  • Industry Collaboration: Avaya realizes that some customers prefer the “whole stack” from one vendor and that some customers prefer a “buffet” from multiple vendors. Avaya technology enables customers to have the best of both worlds and designs products accordingly. Avaya also holds memberships in OpenStack and UCIF.

And why is OpenDaylight good for Avaya?

  • Automation in the Core: The central problems that SDN is meant to address are often caused by a handful of 25-year-old control plane protocols such as xSTP, OSPF, and PIM. Instead of building an SDN control plane on top of an already complex infrastructure, or waiting on a disjointed industry to deliver a new way of implementing the complexity onto white boxes, Avaya already has the foundation for SDN with a technology called Avaya VENA Fabric Connect. Avaya Fabric Connect automates the set-up and tear-down of everything from QoS to routing on the underlying infrastructure, to complement the automation and simplicity of SDN applications managed by the controller. The great news is that Avaya Fabric Connect is field tested and running in customer sites around the globe and was the underpinning for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
  • Innovation in the North: With the automation of the mundane set-up and tear-down of networking tasks, Avaya wants to contribute to creating relevant north-bound API’s that the controller can abstract from the applications and translate for the infrastructure to implement.
  • Hospitality in the South: Avaya understands that the infrastructure may become a very mixed environment. A given site may use legacy switches, Shortest Path Bridging (SPB)-enabled switches, and vSwitches all at the same time. Avaya’s goal is to help evolve southbound API’s to a state that allows the controller to either dictate directly to individual elements in a passive environment or  to delegate to the fabric in an intelligent environment.

In keeping to the rule of three, Avaya’s message to customers is straightforward: Implement Avaya’s foundation for SDN today and plan for open orchestration tomorrow. Here is how:

  1. Implement a network-wide fabric for core automation
  2. Plan for applications with an OpenDaylight Controller
  3. Start defining policies for interactive application performance management and the scope of automation

In short, this relationship is a good fit for Avaya, OpenDaylight, and an industry looking to embrace the promises of SDN. See the announcement of Avaya membership at the OpenDaylight website.

Avaya Pulls in Two Nominations for "Best of Interop" Award

“It’s an honor just being nominated.”

Academy Awards TrophiesFeatureflash/Shutterstock

How many times leading up to a prominent awards ceremony–whether it be the Oscars or the Grammys–do you hear that statement?

As we enter this year’s Interop Las Vegas event, I am going to be bolder and say that we are honored to be nominated–not once, but twice–for the Best of Interop award. But we really want to win!

Avaya was shortlisted in the Networking category with a new feature called Fabric Attach, and in the Security category, with our Identity Engines product.

In this blog post, I am going to focus on Fabric Attach, a feature many of you may not be familiar with yet. At the highest level, Fabric Attach extends the benefits of the Avaya Fabric Connect architecture (based on an enhanced implementation of IEEE 802.1aq Shortest Path Bridging) to non-fabric-enabled devices and end points. It automates the identification and provisioning of edge devices or end points (phones, APs, cameras) that connect into the fabric.

So what’s the value? It really comes down to faster onboarding of users and devices with less chance of error. In a recent Avaya press release that looked at network downtime, it was found that 82% of companies experience network downtime as a result of errors when making network changes.

More dramatically, change-induced network downtime can have serious career-limiting consequences, with 20% of businesses acknowledging dismissals. By combining Fabric Attach’s “zero touch” edge provisioning, and device onboarding with the ability to “set and forget” your Fabric Connect core, the risk of downtime is dramatically reduced.

Even more importantly, the network engineer’s job suddenly becomes less burdensome with less manual provisioning and network firefighting. They can now devote their time to activities more strategic in nature.

Avaya Fabric Attach

To attach non-Fabric Connect-enabled Ethernet switches to a Fabric Connect network, it’s as easy as taking the switch out of the box and plugging it into a Fabric Connect-enabled edge switch, so that it can automatically configure itself with fabric-based services that have already been pre-configured in the fabric core.

Fabric Attach also allows for “zero touch” onboarding of end points. This is where our lessons learned from Sochi come into play. If you have been following Avaya and our role in the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, you’ll remember that it was one of the largest BYOD/guest environments in the world.

One of the challenges we faced was providing services for 40,000 different users, all connecting simultaneously, the day of the Opening Ceremonies. Identity Engines played a critical role in authenticating the devices and then dynamically assigning them to the correct VLAN based on the credentials.

That VLAN was then assigned to the correct virtualized network. What we are doing is taking this concept one step further and dynamically attaching the end point directly into the virtualized network. It’s basically adding a policy to Identity Engines that allows the network to create the VLAN (or SSID if its wireless), create the virtualized network (or I-SID if you are familiar with SPB) and map the VLAN/SSID to the virtualized network (or I-SID) all without user intervention.

This capability would have even further simplified things for the Sochi team, especially considering that we had to plan for 120,000 wireless devices connecting at peak periods such as the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

Avaya Fabric Connect

So although the Interop judges have some tough decisions to make as to who they select as their winner, we are honored to be nominated, and we still want to win!

In my next post, we’ll talk about Identity Engines and why this product is getting attention from the Interop judges.