Net Field Day 2010 – first impressions

I just spent frantic three days in San Jose with a dozen of fellow bloggers attending the Net Field Day 2010 event masterfully organized by Stephen Foskett and Claire Chaplais (thank you both for a truly outstanding experience!). I can’t tell you how delighted I was when they selected me as one of the participants, more so as this event finally allowed me to get in touch with a number of people I was regularly meeting in vSpace. However, the whole point of the Net Field Day is to talk with the vendors and figure out what they’re doing, so let’s start with my first impressions.

The sorry state of the industry. My first impression: real networking innovation is gone. Everyone is building a better mousetrap, polishing the products, adding incremental features, but I haven’t seen a single vision that would help us get beyond the nightmare that we’ve cornered ourselves into based on 20+ years of kludges-over-kludges. Notable exceptions were Arista and Xsigo, offering different management and access-layer concentration perspectives.

On top of that, a number of vendors pushed the “We’re different from Cisco” message. Who cares, tell me what you’ll do to help me make my network better, not what you’re not.

No Cisco. One would expect Cisco to be present in every networking-related event ... and the old Cisco I knew and cherished 15 years ago would have jumped at the opportunity. No longer. It looks like it makes more sense for them to invest money into Facebook pages, Youtube videos and other consumer channels (not to mention viral videos of quacking executives) than to engage with the professional blogging community.

The obsession with analysts. I don’t know what Stephen told the vendors (and how well they listened), but some of them couldn’t resist throwing analyst quotes and charts at us (you know who you are).

On the other hand, some presenters used no slides, a bit of whiteboard and just talked to us. Not surprisingly, those presentations worked out best.

Now let’s move to individual vendors (more details in follow-up blog posts).

HP dazzled us with their EBC and bored us quoting Gartner telling everyone how good HP is (@ErinatHP quickly fixed that with an USB-based update). If I were a CIO, I would leave their EBC with a warm fuzzy feeling (although I would be somewhat hard-pressed to summarize what I’ve been told).

They are definitely the ones building a better, cheaper and more streamlined mousetrap; whether that will be enough to unseat Cisco remains to be seen. However, they seem to have a fantastic network management product (but so was Cabletron Spectrum) and some good ideas in the IPS space. For more in-depth view at what they’re doing and what they have to get done, read Jeremy Filliben’s or Greg Ferro’s posts.

Solarwinds did a great job adapting to our knowledge level (quote from their head geek: “It’s so nice to finally get such an audience”). It looks like they’re slowly evolving their element manager product into the right directions (configuration management and auditing, automated provisioning, large-scale deployments, distributed system ...).

Cradlepoint has a fantastic range of low-end/consumer products: Wifi/Ethernet to 3G/4G gateways. Exactly what you need for low-cost 3G/4G backup solution. Unfortunately, we stayed closer to IDC charts than the meaty details that would allow me to tell you how to integrate their boxes with your routers.

Force 10 was the geekiest outfit of the first day. No slides, great whiteboard discussion and people who knew exactly what they were talking about. As they’ve been in the market for 10+ years and have “a few” “quite large” customers, I’m positive their boxes do what they promise (otherwise they would have been thrown out of those accounts long ago). Combined with Cisco-compatible CLI, the whole deal looks interesting.

We pushed them really hard to ship a low-end box to @packetlife’s community lab. If that goes through, I’ll definitely spend some time testing their gear and writing about it.

Juniper was close to Force 10 on the geekmeter. After the obligatory corporate video and lame attempts to explain the difference between JunOS and Cisco IOS using a Ferrari analogy, we got a truly in-depth look into the JunOS software architecture, enterprise switching portfolio and glimpses of the Data Center interconnect and security solutions.

Quick summary: JunOS architecture looks great; the data center switching products have a “me-too” feel to them. Yet again, we’ve seen nothing new or different from the technology/design perspective, just a yet-another multi-chassis architecture.

Arista: refreshing and different. Loved the Linux-based architecture that’s totally open allowing you to add your own apps to the switch as needed. They also provide great vCenter integration that I will definitely blog about more. Another bonus: not only do they provide an VM version of their software, you can download and test it for free.

Xsigo: a great access-layer concept: virtualize the NIC adapters, push data from servers across Infiniband or 10GE and push them through a physical NIC in their concentrator (I/O director) into various networks (GE, 10GE, FC ...).

Full disclosure: Vendors paid for the event, including all expenses I had during the event, which (I hope) did not change my opinions one bit.


  1. using force10 switches for several years, it works like a charm...
  2. Ivan,
    You should have been over here in Oslo at the Global Broadband Forum. 8-)
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