Q&A: Avaya's Alan Hase On Keeping the Network Simple

Networking used to a fairly straightforward affair: Computers talked to servers and not a whole lot else. Mobile devices introduced a new level of bandwidth-intensive complexity into the equation, requiring network engineers to rethink the classic model of client-server networking.

I recently sat down with Alan Hase, Avaya’s Vice President of Access Networking, to talk data centers, virtualization, software-defined networking, mobile and a new product from Avaya to help IT administrators better understand their networks.

Alan Hase, Avaya

Mark: Hey, Fletch with the Avaya Podcast Network. We’re here live at ATF 2014 in beautiful Orlando, Florida. we’re sitting down with Avaya Vice President of Access Networking, Alan Hase. Alan, thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

Alan: Thanks for having me, Mark.

Mark: It’s a great event down here. The weather is not that great today, but it’s a good turn out this year.

Alan: Oh, absolutely. We have several hundred partners and customers here to see the latest innovations in Avaya technology.

Mark: What do you think that we’re not talking about enough, from your perspective?

Alan: I think the whole industry has a number of incredible evolutions of networking technology and all of the things that surround networking.

Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the data center with software-defined networks, Fabric, technology, things like that. There’s also a lot going on at the edge of the network as well, with mobility and bring your own device, or BYOD.

But the one area of the network that no one has really spent enough time talking about is the campus. It’s quite fascinating to me, because with everything changing in the data center and everything changing with users and devices and mobility and wireless at the network edge, there’s just not enough attention being paid in the industry right now to the campus, and the campus is so key to tie those things together.

What’s really exciting is that Avaya is actually bringing together a series of technologies to tie the campus all the way to the wireless edge. What’s fascinating about this is if you think about why virtualization was created in the data center, it was to deal with a new phenomenon that was happening, largely driven by the VMware, to deal with application mobility in the data center, so a lot of companies have created Fabric technologies and virtualization to go deal with that.

Similarly, at the other edge of the network, people have innovated around wireless and mobility for the same set of reasons, users and devices are moving what was otherwise a very scattered network in prior generations of network.

What no one is really focusing on, other than Avaya, is tying those two things together with a Fabric.

What we’re demonstrating at the show here in Orlando is Fabric technology that’s running all the way from the data center to the wired and the wireless edge to deal with mobility of applications and storage moving in the data center, tying that together with users and devices that are moving around at the other edge of the network.

It’s really a fascinating set of innovations and something that no other company in the networking industry is really exploring these days, and one I personally think is very critical to evolving the entire network, to deal with not just today’s demands, but tomorrow’s demands and the demands of the future.

Related article: 4 Key Takeaways from Enterprise Connect 2014

Mark: When you look at endpoints out on the Ethernet, a person like myself could say, “Well, there’s no difference between a wired device and a wireless device.” Why is there something different in that technology?

Alan: There’s a number of things that are different. Bring your own device creates one set of phenomena, and a lot of people just think about it as a security aspect, or even just an access aspect.

I speak at a lot of events, including events like this, and one of the things that I like to ask people is, “How many networked devices did you bring to this particular event?” I generally start off by asking people to raise their hand if they brought five or more devices.

About this time last year, I was speaking at an event and roughly two-thirds of the audience had brought five or more devices to the event, typically one or two smartphones–depending on if they have a personal and a professional smartphone–a tablet, an e-reader, a personal computer.

That’s one phenomena, not just the fact that people are bringing their personal devices, but they’re bringing a number of personal devices into the workplace or into their educational institution, and the number of devices and what they’re trying to do with them is growing dramatically over time. Five was a bit of a stretch; most generally have three: a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone.

The other major difference is many of these new devices don’t have an Ethernet port. Mini tablets, smartphones, obviously, don’t have an Ethernet port, so they have to talk only through the wireless network.

More importantly, these devices now want to interact with each other. I want to be able to move files endlessly between my personal computer, between my smartphone or my tablet, depending on what I’m using it for, when I need it, at what time. That’s a second phenomenon that ‘s going on.

All of these things are very critical in terms of how the network needs to operate from the applications they’re accessing, in the data center as well as the applications and the traffic that they may be sharing between their personal devices or particularly between, possibly, my devices and your devices.

Mark: What do you think impresses the customers most about the technology we’re seeing here? What’s on their needs roadmap?

Alan: I think a lot of customers who we talk to are really struggling with the complexity of not just the network, but the data center, the applications, storage, how all of these things are rapidly evolving and innovating all at the same time. It’s very difficult for them to deploy these and actually make them work.

One of the key messages that Avaya is delivering, especially with our Fabric technology, is simplicity. We can cut down the amount of time and effort and complexity that they have to deploy the applications in the network that they need to do–whether it’s provisioning at the edge, whether it’s automatic provisioning, VLANS and network services across the network–all of these things either are very error-prone or extremely time-consuming and very, very complicated.

Avaya’s innovations around simplifying the network are really resonating with a lot of people that we talk to.

Mark: I think that’s probably a common theme that I hear. “It’s just that the network has gotten so big, it’s become such a complex animal, I don’t have the staff to manage it.”

That’s one of the biggest benefit in Shortest-Path Bridging last year really showed people, “Oh, my gosh, I plug in something here, tell it where the services are that I need, and let the network figure it out.”

Alan: Exactly. If you look at traditional networking, we’ve created layers upon layers of technology for very good reasons, to start to solve various customer problems.

But over time, that’s created a very difficult framework to try and not just deploy, but also to troubleshoot–when Multicast doesn’t talk with Spanning Tree and routing and all of these things are layered on top of each other–it just becomes very complex.

With our Fabric technology and Shortest-Path Bridging, we really collapse all that down into a much simpler set of things to allow a lot of customers to not only deploy, but also troubleshoot and maintain the network much easier.

Mark: Yeah. It was one of the core pieces behind the success at Sochi.

Alan: Absolutely. Yeah, Sochi was a tremendous event for us and a tremendous showcase for our technology. Obviously, it was the first Fabric-enabled Olympics. It was the first BYOD Olympics.

We had over 2,500 access points, thousands and thousands of users every day, and a number of really interesting learnings out of it. If you just look at the Closing Ceremony: The top two applications that were used in the Closing Ceremony over the wireless network were Dropbox and iCloud, largely things that your devices are now doing on your behalf that you’re not even having to ask them to do.

People take pictures during events like that. As interesting things were happening during the Closing Ceremonies, the bandwidth on the network went up because people were taking pictures in their cameras or smartphones, which were uploading those pictures to Dropbox or iCloud.

So you really need application control, bandwidth and architecture that can allow these types of things to happen seamlessly over your network.

Mark: That’s the key. It is application control, because it’s not the user pushing the button to upload.

Alan: Exactly.

Mark: The user is pushing the button to take the picture, the app is automatically uploading it, whether they’d like it to or not.

Alan: Exactly. One of the things we’re launching today is a wireless technology, new access points, that actually have application Quality-of-Service control actually built into the AP itself for this very same reason.

Because you really don’t know what’s going on in your network. And with more and more things happening wirelessly–and the more intelligence going into these end devices–it’s really important for IT administrators to know what’s going on, so they understand these subtle things, like iCloud and Dropbox happening in the background.

Second, IT administrators want the ability to control them. If you’re an educational institute, you might want to prioritize applications like Moodle or Blackboard and then start to block, as an example, BitTorrent or other file-sharing applications, so that your teachers can get things done in the classroom, and students can get done what they need to get done without being interrupted by doing other things that they shouldn’t be doing in the classroom.

Mark: Sure, sure. I need that technology in my house.

Alan: Right.

Mark: Thanks very much for sitting down and talking with us. We’re talking with Alan Hase, who is the Vice President of Access Networking at Avaya. Some great technology here at ATF. Thanks for stopping by and talking with us.

Alan: Great. It’s great to be here, Mark.

Want more technology, news and information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN. There, you will find additional podcasts from industry events, such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN staff.

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