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Enterprise disaggregation is inevitable

Jim Duffy | June 26, 2015
Time unbundles all network elements as benefits enjoyed by service providers hit private networks beyond CPE.

Back in March, the issue was raised whether disaggregation -- decoupling network software from hardware for choice and flexibility -- could play in the enterprise as well as the service provider realm.

The answer, judging by recent events, is that it can. But currently to a lesser extent than it does with service providers with the benefits mostly staying with the service provider.

Announcements by Pica8, Ciena and AT&T that they plan to offer bare metal and white box switches, and virtual network functions as customer premises equipment, do signal that enterprises are indeed a target for disaggregation. But penetration is currently limited to that -- CPE supplied and managed by service providers for the purpose of connecting that enterprise to its service network.

Disaggregation is likely to spread deeper into an enterprises' own private network but the timeframe for doing so is much farther out, analysts say. Until then, disaggregation's promise of choice, flexibility and lower cost will continue to be enjoyed by the service provider even though platforms sit on the customer premises.

"In the MSP (managed service provider) scenario, the benefit to the enterprise is secondary," says Mike Fratto, principal analyst for enterprise networking and data center technology at Current Analysis. "For the MSP, a VNF running on a CPE is far more cost effective for them."

"CPE is not as critical for (the enterprise), they'd be happy to have someone else manage it for them," says Lee Doyle, principal at Doyle Research. "From a service provider standpoint, it makes sense to go white box instead of deploying tons of routers. It's a more complex thing for enterprises to take on SDN and white box" with a legacy brownfield environment support thousands of applications on hundreds of devices.

This complexity was apparent at last week's Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, CA. A handful of enterprises speaking at the conference expressed interest in SDNs and disaggregated hardware and software, but caution and hesitation in disrupting a brownfield environment that's already working and operated by personnel reluctant to change how they manage it.

It will determine when and how deep disaggregation dives into the enterprise's private network.

"Disaggregation will make incemental, steady progress within the broader Fortune 500, though that progress will be no means be immediate," states IDC analyst Brad Casemore in an as yet unreleased report on network disaggregation. "Just as with software-defined networking, not everybody is ready to embrace change and be an early adopter."

The IDC report, though, also states that disaggregation is an inevitability in the enterprise -- more specifically, large enterprises -- because it offers a means of standardizing network resources while allowing for continuous software innovation "beyond the confines of vendor-specific product release schedules." This is in addition to the capital and operational cost reduction oftenm viewed as the primary driver of the trend.


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