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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Check out the Cool Avaya Omnichannel Contact Center Demos at ICMI

Sometimes you travel to Orlando to really fun destinations. But this May 22-25, when you arrive in Orlando for the 2017 ICMI Contact Center Expo and Conference, we think you’ll be heading for what we like to call the second happiest place on earth. Visit Avaya’s Booth 623 for a fun omnichannel contact center experience that shows you how to create satisfaction—happiness—for customers throughout their interactions with your company.

Each year, contact center executives gather for a few days of education on the latest innovations designed to ensure customers have a great experience. I might not meet up with Mickey from Disney, but I may get together with Alex from Norwegian Cruise Lines, an Avaya customer, and many others who are going to have a wild ride at our cool contact center demos. We’ll show customer-focused companies our latest innovations. This includes the Avaya Oceana™ Solution for contact centers, which enables you to provide a greater customer experience over every communications channel—phone, email, web, SMS, chat, and more. And Avaya Aura® Workforce Optimization, which helps you drive a better customer experience by generating relevant and timely insights from each interaction.

At our demos, we believe customer service professionals will be as excited as kids visiting Goofy. Why? With just five minutes of prep, we can put your corporate website into our Avaya Oceana contact center transformation demo. We’ll set up a live, fully functional omnichannel contact center for taking calls and chat sessions from your website. It’s like magic to see a retail website suddenly support chat and WebRTC-based voice. We show you the exact experience your customers would have. Want to add voice? Will do. How about co-browsing and secured form fill? Done. How about a custom application for the iPhone? Done and fun!

Then we’ll add in our workforce optimization tools, giving you a 360-degree view of how to move from the old world of 800 numbers to the new world of a multi-touch omnichannel contact center. It all works with all of our Avaya solutions (which are used by 90% of the Fortune 100). It’s a great ride—with no height restrictions and guaranteed to be eye opening.

Visiting an Avaya booth at any tradeshow is a unique experience for many reasons:

  • Each demonstration we do is customized. The best way to show you the power of Avaya is to give you a glimpse into what your actual solution could be. If a vendor shows a canned demo, it might be an indication that the technology is not flexible or easy to customize.
  • Each demo shows multi-touch channels in action. Click on a live representation of your company’s mobile application and it connects to an agent. Follow the experience like your customers would.
  • We show the entire customer experience. A customer journey map shows the entire customer experience so that agents can add value to previous transactions and steps. By knowing what a customer has done in the past, or what a customer tried to do, an agent can be one step ahead with a relevant response.
    If a customer chatted with an agent yesterday and places a phone call today, it’s likely that both contacts are about the same transaction. An agent can see what information was exchanged with another agent, so the current agent can continue the customer journey fluidly. It’s a great way to reduce agent time requirements, while making the customer experience more personalized.
  • We are passionate about making a difference for your business. Meet an Avaya team with years of contact center experience and dedicated to helping your company create a competitive differentiation by transforming your customer experience.

We hope to see you at the ICMI Contact Center and Exhibition in Booth 623. We’ll have you saying “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” (Did you know Microsoft Word has supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the dictionary?)

If you can’t make it to a show, an Avaya associate or partner can demo our solutions in person or online. To schedule a demonstration at the ICMI event or at another time, please email me at blgutnick@avaya.com.

Secure IoT Deployments with Avaya SDN Fx™ Architecture Solutions

Let’s look at how to deploy the IoT in a safe and sane manner—a top-of-mind business challenge. Before diving into the technology, let’s remember why secure IoT deployments are so important. The Yahoo breach is a lesson learned: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer lost $12M in bonuses over the Yahoo data breach and Yahoo paid $16M to investigate the breach and cover legal expenses as of March 2, 1017. It’s clear that the cost of not building a safe infrastructure is much more than the cost to build one.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is sometimes over-hyped. At a base level, separating the control plane from the data plane makes sense (if one understands the definitions of a data plane and control plane). In a practical sense, it means the network infrastructure doesn’t need to be managed on a node-by-node basis (i.e., logging into network devices on each end of the cable to make complementary changes to configure a network link). This is where SDN can be over-hyped. The SDN solution automates the process of making the changes to each end of the cable, making the network easier to manage. But, it doesn’t reduce the complexity, increase the resiliency (other than reduce outages due to typing errors), or make it easier to troubleshoot or expand.

Avaya SDN FxTM Architecture is based on fabric, not network technology. The architecture was designed to be managed as an entity of subcomponents and not a bunch of nodes that are interconnected to create a larger entity. In other words, it’s like designing something to manage a forest, as opposed to managing the trees. Would you really want to manage a forest one tree at a time?

How SDN Fx Architecture Benefits the IoT

Although the SDN Fx network architecture wasn’t specifically designed for the IoT, it works well for providing a solid foundation to deploy IoT solutions. These are the key components of the SDN Fx Architecture that benefit the IoT:

Avaya Fabric Connect is Avaya’s implementation of Shortest Path Bridging (SPB/IEEE 802.1aq). SPB replaces the traditional network stack, greatly simplifying network configuration, management and security. Three key benefits of Fabric Connect apply directly to IoT deployment use case:

  • Hyper-Segmentation: SPB supports 16 million+ network segments. In theory, every IoT device on a network could have its own segment. More realistically, every device type can have its own segment. For instance, HVAC could be one network, security cameras could be on another, employees on a third, guests on a fourth, etc. It’s worth noting that the NSA sees segmenting IoT networks as a key to limiting exposure of IoT deployments. (In my next blog, I’ll examine how Avaya solutions provide security between devices on the same segment.)
  • Automatic Elasticity: Services in SPB are provisioned at the edge without touching the core of the network. This makes it very straightforward to provision network services for the hundreds or thousands of IoT devices that the business wants up and running yesterday. Plus, edge provisioning makes moving devices simple. When a device is disconnected from the network, the network service to that port is disabled and eliminates open holes in the network security. When the device is connected to the same or different port, the device is authenticated and services are automatically configured for the port.
  • Native Stealth: SPB operates at the Ethernet, not the IP layer. For example, if a would-be hacker gains access to one segment of a traditional network, they can go IP-snooping to discover the network architecture. A traditional network is only as secure as the least secure segment/component. With Fabric Connect, if a security loophole is overlooked in a less important network project, there isn’t a back door to access the rest of the network and the corporate data.

Avaya Fabric Extend provides the ability to extend an SPB fabric across a non-fabric network, such as IP core, between campuses over Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), or out to the cloud over WAN. IoT deployments enable the phased adoption of SDN Fx so that IoT projects can gain the values above, without ripping and replacing significant network infrastructure or affecting non-IoT workloads.

Avaya Fabric Attach automates the elasticity of the SPB fabric for IoT devices and other devices supporting Automatic Attachment (IEEE 802.1Qcj). Fabric Attach allows the device to signal the network that it needs in order to connect to a service. If the device is authorized, the service is automatically provisioned. When the device is disconnected, the service is terminated. If the device is moved to a different network port, the service will be provisioned automatically to the new port. This makes deploying and moving Fabric Attach-enabled devices very simple. For a real-world example, see how Axis Communications is starting to deploy Fabric Attach in their IoT devices.

Avaya Open Networking Adapters—an Open Network Adapter is a small device that sits in-line with an IoT device to provide programmable security for IoT devices that lack adequate network security. One component of the solution is Fabric Attach, which provides automated service provisioning and mobility to devices that don’t have the auto-attach capability. (I’ll explore more about the power of Open Networking Adapters in an upcoming blog.)

The Avaya Identity Engines Portfolio provides powerful tools for managing user and device access to a network, commonly referred to as Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting. In the IoT use case, Identity Engines authenticate a device by MAC address or MAC address group and use predefined policies for the device type to dynamically configure services. For instance, a camera could be assigned to Video VLAN 30 and provisioned for multicast, while a phone would be authenticated, assigned to VLAN 20, and configured for SIP communications. This provides security for unauthorized devices joining the network and provides automatic segmentation based on device type and service requirements.

I’m not sure if there ever was a time when network design and implementation was static, but there was a time when the devices connected to the network could be predicted: servers, printers, storage, PCs, etc. With IoT, IT is being asked to design networks for devices that haven’t been thought of yet. The old network technologies were designed for mobility by work order, and IT was able to list the number of device types that wouldn’t work on the network. SDN Fx provides a true software-defined network and not software-defined automation on old network constructs. A fabric network has the intrinsic flexibility and security required for tomorrow’s IoT projects, today.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Next in this blog series, I’ll explore the newest component of the SDN Fx solution for the IoT, the Avaya Surge™ Solution.

Customer Journey Analytics vs. Traditional Analytics—Know the Difference

It’s expected that 60% of all large organizations will develop customer journey mapping capabilities by 2018. Why? Because the average consumer isn’t so average anymore. Consider that a typical customer now owns three personal mobile devices, each with anywhere from 10 to 20 downloaded apps. This individual owns an average of five social media accounts, nearly three of which are actively used. Additionally, the average office worker receives up to 121 personal emails per day. Just imagine what these figures look like for consumers on the high end of this engagement spectrum.

To get a snapshot of my own activity, I followed these simple instructions to figure out how many emails I receive. It’s 10 a.m. and I show 59 emails received (up from 47 just two minutes ago). And tweets average around 6,000 per second—I have 1,175 in my queue based on who I am currently following. The question is: How do you bring your email, tweet, post, or blog to my attention amid all the clutter?

When we look at what this means to customer experience it is worth noting that we’ve reached a point where over 40% of customers now use up to seven different channels to interact with brands, from live chat to email to social media to SMS. Businesses increasingly understand this fact, and they’re taking the necessary steps to ensure they can deliver consistent, contextualized experiences across various channels and devices.

Each of the devices and channels offers its own set of diverse scenarios for linking to other devices and channels, making no two customer experiences the same. The not-so-good news is that businesses are still grappling to understand customers’ actions across these various touchpoints. They need to leverage data but, in fact, 43% of companies currently obtain little tangible benefit from their data, while 23% admit they derive no benefit whatsoever. Organizations are struggling to create a data strategy that delivers the insights needed to drive anticipatory engagement and repeat spending.

The bottom line is that a business can support virtually every interaction channel. However, without a comprehensive view of the data generated and shared across those channels organization-wide, it will fail. Supporting an array of channels is simply not enough. Businesses must gain an inherent understanding of how customers are using these channels so that they can adapt, evolve and change as needed. This is where the ability to understand your data—specifically, customer journey analytics—becomes vital.

The solution here may be simple to describe, but implementing it isn’t. Adopting customer journey analytics means businesses must now support a powerful, real-time visualization of the customer journey across all lines of business, not just the contact center. They need a roadmap to continually reinvent key processes and fine-tune organizational behavior. They must harness real-time and historical data across all channels and devices to intuitively understand customer needs and optimize business outcomes. Most challenging of all, they must do this in a way that shows tangible ROI and improves TCO.

To make customer journey analytics work, businesses must take a critical step from ideology to implementation—a move that can often feel like a leap of faith.

But there’s good news: technology has evolved to a point where companies can now easily, effectively and cost-efficiently achieve these core data objectives. The key is investing in an extensible, omnichannel customer engagement solution.

Your customer engagement solution should boast simple capabilities. It should be pretty easy to create and manage dynamic, multi-touch customer journeys. And you need a built-in, flexible analytics and reporting platform to deliver a single, comprehensive view of customer data across all sources, both internal and external. This lets you compete using customer journey analytics, and also easily add third-party data sources to amplify their strategy.

A customer engagement platform redefines the way businesses engage with digital consumers. Here’s how customer journey analytics stand apart from traditional reporting and analytics:

  • Obliterates Siloes: A siloed environment is the greatest barrier to data success, and it’s affecting more businesses than we realize. According to Deloitte’s 2017 “Contact Center Benchmarking Report,” nearly 60% of customer channels are currently being managed in silos. Analytics integration is vital for competing on customer experience (CX), an initiative that traditional analytics tools simply can’t support.
     

    Built on open, extensible architecture, a customer engagement platform has unparalleled flexibility for gathering transactional information from numerous different channels (IM, co-browsing, SMS, phone, email, IoT) and devices (phone, mobile/tablets, branch, desktop, kiosks). This enables companies to flexibly collect, process and analyze all real-time and historical data. They gain a rich visualization of their customer journey enterprise-wide. This means consistent, contextualized experiences no matter where and when interactions begin, end, continue—and no matter how many company agents are communicating with the customer.

  • Seamlessly combines internal and external data sources: The open nature of a customer engagement platform enables companies to combine internal data with that of virtually any other business intelligence (BI) tool. For example, insights collected internally can be combined with data from visualization tools from leading providers like MicroStrategy, Oracle, SAP and Tableau. This lets managers maximize the return on their existing investments, while driving their potential beyond what was initially imagined.
     

    Furthermore, this unique ability lets managers generate cradle-to-grave customer interaction reports, enabling them to identify innovative new ways to meet consumers’ evolving needs. Chances are you’re not going to get this with traditional reporting and analytics platforms.

  • Transforms the agent experience: A holistic customer engagement platform redefines agent and supervisor experiences by allowing companies to easily create, customize and integrate key applications for specific work groups. Supported by an advanced software development kit, companies can build their own contact center apps, or embed specific functions into their existing apps, to customize desktops for any unique customer/agent configuration. The solution represents a revolutionary way to serve digital consumers. And, it offers managers a new avenue for analyzing performance metrics for all ways customers are served.

With customers using more digital channels than ever, it’s clear that now is the time to adopt customer journey analytics via a customer engagement platform.

Interested in learning more or chatting about transforming your analytics environment? Contact us. We’re here to help and would love to hear from you.