Will the real Ethernet Fabric please stand up…or, are some Vendors playing fast and loose with terminology (again)?

Many will remember the early days of fixed-format Ethernet Switches, when the development of resilient configurations was initiated as an alternative to existing Modular Chassis systems. While we can debate who invented what, and when – SynOptics, 3Com, and even Digital all fielded competing designs – the really significant thing about these solutions is that they were genuinely resilient. All were based on a backbone capability that virtualized what the traditional chassis relied on in hardware. Thus, “stacking” – in a true, resilient, integrated way was born.

Then, along came the pretenders. These were the vendors that wanted to share the spotlight even though they didn’t have anything innovative to bring to the party; even though some only daisy-chained switches, some used Spanning Tree, most consumed relatively low-speed front-panel uplink ports, and most didn’t support QoS. If they could manage two or more interconnected Switches with a single IP Address they wanted to stake a claim. Eventually, everyone claimed to do stacking, which ultimately commoditized and devalued the term. This sad state of affairs is the reason Avaya insists on using the term, “stackable chassis” for our genuine, full-featured technology.

The Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) label appears to be taking a similar journey, which again is causing confusion in the industry. Respected industry analyst Zeus Kerravala echoes my sentiments in a blog  discussing his frustration when the aspirations of marketing trumps the realities of engineering.

This is not simply an esoteric debate about the proper names to apply to respective technologies. When the same name is used to market vastly different capabilities, it lays the burden of decoding what’s what on the customers. So, rather than focusing on helping businesses solve specific real-world problems, this exercise in obfuscation just makes matters worse.

We’re seeing the same thing with use of the term, Fabrics – driven, it appears, by the need to ground Software-Defined Network (SDN) offers on some form of Fabric. The logic seems to be that in order to have a credible SDN story you also need to offer a Fabric. While there may be some basis in fact for the logic, it doesn’t automatically translate that any networking solution has the right to call themselves a Fabric.

This is part formal standards definition and part real-world capability. A few years ago, and at roughly the same time, the two main industry standards bodies – the IEEE and the IETF – both established working committees to address the question of Fabric-based networking. The IEEE eventually went with something called Shortest Path Bridging, (SPB, formalized as 802.1aq) and the IETF placed their bet on the rather funkily named Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL, formalized as RFC 6325, et al).

Unsurprisingly, both standards take a very different approach to solving what was meant to be roughly the same problem: creating agile, reliable, and scalable networks that seamlessly complement server/application virtualization in the Data Center, and next-generation networking initiatives at the network edge. In short, a Fabric.

Remembering that this is an opinion piece and not a white paper, I’m going to be unapologetically subjective: SPB is by far the superior of the two. At the risk of over-simplifying things, but in the interests of space and time, I’ll stake the claim that SPB represents a re-imagining of Ethernet for the 21st Century, while TRILL is simply Spanning Tree overdosing on steroids. But, I’ll at least give TRILL the credit of being a standard – indeed, at last count it’s about ten standards – and that’s more than most of these Johnny-come-lately “Fabrics” can claim.

TRILL’s biggest problem is that it’s not a particularly good Fabric technology and nobody seems very interested in implementing it — certainly not in a standards-compliant form. Cisco use a bit of TRILL in their FabricPath offering, while Brocade uses a different part in their Virtual Cluster Switching offering. Neither is pure TRILL and neither is interoperable, but at least they have the right to call their solutions a Fabric…more or less. Juniper took a shot at the Fabric challenge with QFabric, but this went largely unnoticed by the rest of the industry, and certainly by potential customers.

The only Fabric standard that has garnered wide-spread support is SPB. Avaya implements this as our Fabric Connect technology and we’ve been instrumental throughout the evolution of the standard (or, perhaps I should say “standards” as SPB is now standardized by both the IEEE and the IETF (6329)). The Avaya Fabric Connect implementation leverages the native extensibility of SPB to add significant Enterprise-centric capabilities in the areas of integrated L3 Virtualization, L3 Routing, and IP Multicast. However, all the while, we remain interoperable with other standards-compliant SPB implementers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, and even HP.

And that brings us to the pseudo-Fabrics being touted in the context of SDN. Perhaps answering these questions brings us to a conclusion:

  • Is a networking overlay that adds yet another layer of protocol and complexity – while making some wildly optimistic assumptions about topology, reachability, and failover – really a Fabric?
  • Is something that is limited to the confines of the Data Center, can only be run as a service on a computing platform, or is bottlenecked by a controller really a Fabric?
  • If so, where’s the end-to-end nature, the step-function in agility, scalability, and availability?

While the IEEE does not necessarily hold the mortgage on what is or is not a Fabric and any pioneer is free to innovative to their heart’s content, a pretty authoritative line has been drawn in the sand. There are, quite rightly, well-defined expectations of what constitutes a Fabric. Customers have a right to expect that a “Fabric-based” solution does – in fact – deliver Fabric-centric capabilities. And, crucially, it’s a solution that matches their business needs and expectations.

More and more, we’re seeing people appreciate that a Fabric – a genuine Fabric – is the delivery vehicle for the technological and commercial benefits that businesses desperately crave. After all, it’s not about the protocol, it’s about what it delivers.

To this point, Zeus Kerravala recently posted the “Network of 2020.” Interesting stuff, and it particularly resonates with me because of the clear and consistent alignment with the message that I preach day-in, day-out. I’d recommend that you pay particular attention to those attributes that businesses really need to focus on; those that will enable them to advance faster, avoid forklifts upgrade, and aren’t burdened with high capital investments and hidden operational complexity and cost.

If this has sparked some interest, then it would appear that I’ve done a good day’s work. Many of you already know that I’m pretty passionate about this subject and about what Avaya can offer. However, even if you’re considering alternatives from another vendor, I would simply encourage you to delve into exactly what’s been proposed with a good, hard look at what’s actually behind the top-level marketing message.

For those of you that are more than interested, the good news is that there’s a solution out there taking full advantage of the standardized Ethernet Fabric technology: Avaya SDN Fx™ Architecture is a standardized end-to-end Fabric-centric architecture that solves the challenges left over by decades of legacy multi-protocol client-server networking. It maintains backwards compatibility, while delivering next-generation capabilities; providing a seamless evolution to SDN. And it’s available today.

Do your research. Challenge your vendor to a proof of concept. Don’t buy simply on theoretical benefits and a hope that the future will deliver on the promises of today. Most importantly, make sure that you’re implementing technology solutions that are focused on driving positive business outcomes.

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IP Office Leads the Way: How Doubling Down in One Product Area Can Drive Best Practices

Just over a month ago, we released the latest version of Avaya IP Office, one of the most popular SMB/MM UC systems on the market today. Over the past year, we’ve doubled the number of partners who are offering IP Office as a cloud deployment and have now shipped more than half a million systems globally—but this kind of success didn’t come overnight.

We’ve evolved Avaya IP Office a long way over the years, growing the product from something geared towards the SMB space (typically 100 users and below) to something that can scale all the way up to the midmarket, serving up to 3,000 users. Adding this scale to the product was extremely important because as our customers and partners grow, we can now grow right along with them. It also opens up the potential market served by the product.

Evolving with Our Customers and Partners

At Avaya, we have two groups of people to keep happy—our end users and our channel partners—and both want to make long-term investments in a communications solution and trusted business partner. That’s why, instead of concentrating on multiple product lines, we’re focused on continually enhancing Avaya IP Office with new features and capabilities, such as the new release 10, which adds a number benefits for businesses in terms of security, resiliency and end-user experience.

Our partners are happy with this approach because their salespeople now only need to know one single product, making it easier to sell, manage and configure the technology for a wide range of businesses (anywhere from a 10-person to 3,000-person company). And our customers are thrilled because as they expand and evolve, they have a flexible, scalable communications solution that can still meet their every need.

Businesses can even expand the solution into a simple and robust multi-channel call center. With IP Office Contact Center or Avaya Contact Center Select, companies can integrate voice, e-mail, and web chat channels, and proactively manage the entire customer interaction lifecycle. They can start at their own pace with one channel such as voice, for example, and add other channels such as e-mail as business objectives evolve. In June, Avaya also announced a highly affordable, simple-to-deploy workforce optimization solution that enables a wide range of insights into the customer experience, allowing midsize businesses to create the most value through every customer interaction.

Providing Investment Protection

While many businesses are aware of cloud, not everyone wants it right now. Because Avaya IP Office is offered as a cloud, hybrid cloud, or premises based deployment, businesses can move to the cloud at a more measured pace—adding new features and capabilities from the cloud as they become available or needed, and leveraging the investment they have in a premises deployment.

For instance, a business could start with an IP Office solution today on premises, and then migrate to cloud or hybrid cloud in a year or even five years from now—and all the features and training they’ve given to employees will stay exactly the same because the end-user experience will be the same.

Providing further investment protection, Avaya even allows customers running on old Nortel technology to seamlessly move their user licenses to IP Office at minimal cost.

A Relentless Focus on Quality

Doubling down in one product area has also allowed Avaya to put a premium on quality. Today, Avaya’s Net Promoter Score (NPS)—a measure of the willingness of a customer to recommend a company’s products or services to others—hovers around 58, which is considered excellent in almost any industry. The Net Promoter Score for IP Office has been over 70 for the last several quarters.

This sky-high NPS is all the more impressive when you consider Avaya IP Office is for small 10-user customers and larger 3,000-user customers. This ability to meet high- and low-end needs is pretty unique in the industry, and is only achievable because of the company’s relentless focus on quality and features.

Always striving to understand the needs of our customers, we’re constantly adding new enhancements to IP Office. Leveraging much of the knowledge and experience we learned at the enterprise-level with Avaya Aura, we continue to add usability and resiliency to IP Office. In fact, the latest version of the platform features built-in signaling and media encryption for endpoints and UC clients, helping preserve privacy and data integrity. This increase in security is especially significant to the midmarket, where the number of attacks reported by midsize companies increased 64% between 2013 and 2014, according to the 2015 global survey report.

Beyond other pure cloud deployments, the latest version of IP Office also takes a unique approach to resilience, providing system failover cloud to cloud, cloud to premises, premises to cloud, and premises to premises, keeping your system active and users connected through any outage.

Moving forward, we’ll continue to add enhancements to Avaya IP Office, relentlessly driving quality and features for our growing list of customers and partners.

Heads in the Cloud: Digital Natives and Unified Communications

Millennial—a four-syllable word that may as well be a four-letter one. Millennials are polarizing, and everyone seems to have an opinion about Gen Y, especially when it comes to the workplace.

For many 20- and 30-somethings in the workforce, an unfortunate reality is a stigma around their generation—a disdain for their unwillingness to cope with the status quo of conventional workplace policies. But with that comes the realization that the guard has changed, and they now make up a majority of the workforce, driving the future of their chosen industries.

Young workers are driving a paradigm shift in the working world, putting a greater emphasis on work-life balance and striving for career advancement, with an unprecedented willingness to jump ship from a current position to find something that better suits their needs and goals. Companies need to be able to court and retain the best of the digital native generation, making adjustments to suit the employees of the future.

As a proud member of Gen Y, I can say that the technology and services available in the workplace are some of the most important factors to me, and I’m not alone. I’m part of a contingent of employees that have more than just our heads in the cloud and having access to our work anywhere and everywhere is vital. In a survey conducted by flexjobs.com, 84% of Gen Y-ers polled said they would prefer to work remotely full time. While that may not be realistic in every situation, there’s no doubt that the workplace is becoming more mobile, and productivity is not limited to a desk in an office building. Cloud-enabled unified communications and collaboration tools are the new wave, and something that Avaya excels at.

It’s for this reason that I’m happy—even proud—to work for Avaya. They see the way technology in the workplace is moving, and continue to make it easier for companies to go through digital transformations, moving smoothly into the future. And I, like many Avayans, can speak to the quality of our products and solutions first hand.

I use Avaya solutions just about every day of my life to collaborate and get my work done, from wherever and whenever I need to. I’m still amazed at how fluidly and effortlessly I can communicate with colleagues from around the world, from any device. While it’s nice to disconnect from the working world temporarily, it’s also immensely comforting to know that through Avaya technology, I can be face to face with anyone I need to talk to in a matter of minutes.

Effective communication is important in our mobile world. My generation of digital natives comes predisposed to being connected with one another effortlessly and near constantly. Having the right unified communications technology in place to facilitate fully formed and engaging collaboration experiences is vital, and something that Avaya can do for a business of any size in any industry.

This generation of employees does not want work to be easy; rather we want it to be easier to get work done. Having technology in place that allows people to maintain flexibility in their lives while still producing quality work is a necessary step for any business that wants to retain young talent and maximize results.

Avaya and IAUG: Coming Together for a Better User Group Experience

Marilyn ShuckMarilyn Shuck serves as a Director on the IAUG Board, president of the Puget Sound Avaya Users Group, and as a UC Engineer at the University of Washington.



The combination of the Avaya Technology Forum (ATF) and the International Avaya Users Group (IAUG) flagship event, Avaya ENGAGE, is generating a lot of buzz. As IAUG members, it’s exciting for us because we’ll be there as Avaya is announcing new products and have better access to Avaya. We’re also looking forward to bringing in more technical expertise, session choice, and potential new members to IAUG.

In the past, ATF was held in February or March, and Avaya ENGAGE was in June. By the time we assembled for Avaya ENGAGE, new product lines would have been out for several months. Now, we’ll get to hear the latest announcements. Since we’re partnering with Avaya, we’ll have much more access to them, getting our questions answered, getting trained, and seeing the new products in action.

We’re also able to offer so many more sessions, some with more technical expertise. ATF has historically been a technical conference, and our IAUG attendees will have a choice of breakout sessions that will add a new dimension to the education they’ll already be receiving.

It also makes sense to hold both of these events under one umbrella. There’s some overlap between ATF attendees and Avaya ENGAGE attendees, and in organizations where travel budgets are tight or where the same person is a technical support specialist and a user, you no longer have to choose which event to attend.

Additionally, we’re excited about the possibility of introducing new members to IAUG. Some ATF attendees may not have known about our existence, but now not only will they have the chance to learn more about us but they can network with us. We can continue to share learning opportunities and even bring a whole new quality of technical users to IAUG.

Make no mistake, the foundation of the event has not changed. This is still planned with the Avaya customer in mind. However, it signals our deepening relationship by aligning all customer events.

This is going to be one of those cases where what happens in Las Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Avaya and IAUG are aligning, and it’s going to provide valuable education and opportunities for customers, IAUG members, partners, and Avaya. The benefits of attending will resonate throughout your organization, so plan to join us in February to learn, network, and return full of ways to make the most of your Avaya implementations. You can learn more at http://engage.iaug.org.