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5 ways Avaya can stave off irrelevancy

New Avaya data networking chief Marc Randall has five focus areas in his sights to help the company sell its Ethernet switches, gain market share ... and perhaps stave off irrelevancy.

Even after buying the Ethernet switching assets of Nortel in 2009, Avaya has lost half of its revenue share in the Ethernet switching market over the past three years, according to Dell'Oro Group. The company's share dropped from 3% of an $18 billion market in 2008, to 1.4% of a $19.8 billion market in 2011.

Yet Randall, an Ethernet switching veteran who joined the firm Jan. 3 as the new senior vice president and general manager of Avaya Networking, is bullish on the company's prospects in five key markets:

• campus • data center • branch • edge• mobility

DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS: Avaya unveils switching blueprint for virtual data centers

"We really are committed to get into the data networking business," Randall says. "Because of the Nortel acquisition, I wasn't really sure what the product portfolio looked like. To my surprise, the portfolio exceeded my expectations."

Avaya's focus for 2012 will be on tightly aligning its networking infrastructure products to applications in those five target markets. Those applications include Avaya's own unified communications and contact center packages, Web Alive collaboration application, and to other general purpose business applications, like databases, ERP, CRM, etc.

"We believe that we've got a unique opportunity to get tightly coupled with applications," Randall says. "Cisco's become so siloed recently that getting a tighter connection to the applications turned out to be a bigger, bigger challenge, and I think that's where the industry's going to go.

"If we can pull off tying the application to the infrastructure, where the applications run better, I thought this was going to be a great opportunity."

In the campus, Randall believes Avaya's Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) will appeal to organizations looking to overcome the scalability limitations of Ethernet's Spanning Tree protocol. VENA is based on the IEEE's Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) specification, which uses a link state routing protocol to allow switches to learn the shortest paths through an Ethernet fabric and dynamically adjust to topology changes. SPB also allows Ethernet networks to deploy multiple active paths to overcome the traditional active-passive redundancy of Spanning Tree, in which half of all ports could be in a non-forwarding mode.

There's also an opportunity to ride on the back of Avaya's unified communications and collaboration portfolio in enterprise campuses, especially if the company's switches are optimized for those applications.

"There's no reason that (channel partners) can't attach data (to Avaya UC offerings)," Randall says. "So we've got an initiative -- I call it the first hop into the network. If you sell an Avaya VoIP phone, that phone should be attached to an Avaya switch with an Avaya identity engine doing the policy management. If you have an existing infrastructure you connect the Avaya switch into the existing infrastructure. That for us would be a tremendous port win."

The data center is another natural fit for VENA -- and vice versa, Randall believes. With data center switching fabrics moving to low latency, multipath architectures, VENA and its SPB foundation are up to the task.

Indeed, VENA was initially introduced to address these new, flat, low-latency Ethernet fabrics for the data center. And it brings simplicity to an overly complicated consideration, Randall says.

"One of the things that continues to be a big challenge in the data center is, you've got [Juniper] QFabric, [Arista] spine and leaf, [Cisco's] three tiers, and all of the solutions are pretty complex," Randall says. "VENA is shortest path bridging, which is Q-in-Q," the well established IEEE 802.1Q-in-Q VLAN stacking specification. "Our next step is, we really have to be a lot more vocal in the data center community on our solution. It brings to market an extremely compelling value proposition to Cisco FabricPath and the others."

The data center and campus initiatives also involve another key market for Avaya -- intelligent switching at the network edge. Intelligent edges in the data center and in the enterprise keep traffic from always going to the core of the network to get forwarding instructions, thereby reducing latency.

Randall says network edge intelligence lets IT have a flat architecture where data doesn't have to touch the core, facilitating a more horizontal, or "east/west" traffic flow versus always going to the core. In this regard, Avaya will continue to enhance its edge switches with forwarding, application and service-level intelligence so these horizontal, low-latency VENA networks can be implemented enterprisewide.

Where Avaya has gaps is in the remote access and unified branch, Randall admits. Mobility comes into play in the market as well. Randall sees an opportunity to improve policy-based security management in branch offices through a concentration on Avaya wireless LANs, secure routing, and support for the "bring your own device" (BYOD) phenomena.

With more employees accessing corporate data and applications from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, security becomes even more of a concern for enterprises. The traditional branch office management model has to change, and that's where Avaya is looking for opportunity.

"In the traditional branch, security is all based on MAC address," Randall says. "We're moving to the point of, you should have policies per individual -- where do they work, what should they get at, what operating system do they have on their device, what device is it -- and be able to generally provision access as people plug into the network. This year you will see more (Avaya) activity in the branch."

And as for that sliding market share -- how does Avaya data networking keep from slipping from the buyer's radar screen?

"We've seen really solid growth the last two quarters which we think is going to extend into this quarter," Randall says, even though Dell'Oro notes otherwise. "And then we have a direct sales approach of taking our VENA architecture and selling that in the campus. We're seeing our business pick up.

"Do we have a brand?" he asks. "We let it get stale, but now is an opportunity to refresh. So we're kind of in a unique position here, I'm kind of excited about it."

On the competitive front, Randall says Avaya has a better end-to-end story than Extreme Networks; a more holistic story than Brocade, which he says is fixated on the data center; a better solution story than HP, which he says sells individual boxes based on low price; and a tighter enterprise focus than Juniper, whose "DNA is in the service provider space."

"I'm looking at having a better delivery and a better product line" than the competition, Randall says. "The chips will fall where they may."

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.


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