The Airwave Effect
We had a very interesting internal debate recently starting with a seemingly minor note about upcoming changes to Aruba’s Airwave pricing. For those that aren’t quite familiar with Airwave, it’s Aruba’s legacy wired and wireless network management tool and it’s a much-loved solution, used widely for its multi-vendor support, ease of use and reliability.
However, Aruba would now prefer everyone to use Aruba Central instead. On the surface, this isn’t a controversial move. Airwave is on-prem only and was developed in the days before cloud when there was more of a network perimeter mindset - so its capabilities haven’t kept pace with how the networking market has evolved. It’s showing its age. So, the logical solution would be to announce the shift in direction away from Airwave and build a migration path to Aruba Central.
However, Airwave is vendor agnostic whereas Aruba Central isn’t – it only works with Aruba infrastructure and that’s where our discussion really took off. (Just a note here that Aruba have stated their objective is to make Central vendor agnostic in the future, but that doesn’t help you today)
Aruba doesn’t want to declare that Airwave is EOL as they know many customers can’t move (or for various reasons are not yet ready to move) to Aruba Central, so instead, they’re changing the pricing structure as a means to actuate the migration. Airwave also won’t work once Aruba’s newest access points and switches are released – you will need Aruba Central. You could say it’s an EOL strategy by stealth, but this does provide a good reason for customers to review their environments and tools while taking a deeper look at what all the vendors are doing in this space – and they’re all doing roughly the same thing.
The Single Pane of Glass Promise
What sits behind this Airwave price increase (and the incentives to shift to Aruba Central) is the nirvana of a single pane of glass to do everything for network management in the cloud. It’s not a new idea, and every vendor from Aruba to Cisco to Juniper has been pushing this strategy for years. But the caveat is, that the single pane of glass solution for each vendor really only works with that vendor’s equipment.
This makes sense for the vendors. If they can put enough value in the management layer, it becomes a powerful incentive for organisations to consolidate around a single vendor’s infrastructure over time. The tight integration between hardware and software in this scenario, allows the vendors to deliver capabilities that just aren’t possible with multi-vendor solutions - and the vendors have been making acquisitions and developing products to fill portfolio gaps so they can become a one-stop shop.
Sounds good in theory and some businesses should, and will (if they haven’t already), absolutely buy into this idea – especially small to medium organisations where their requirements are relatively ubiquitous and the risks of being locked into a single vendor are lower.
Most environments today though aren’t single vendor because the risks are too large and the networking requirements too diverse and unique. Organisations have learnt from past mistakes that putting all your networking eggs in one basket opens you up to the risk of losing features or not being able to add a specific capability control at some point in the future because that vendor made a market-based decision to change something. Or you might find that your chosen vendor’s solution in a specific area is weaker than the competition and you’re stuck.
So, an acceptance has settled over the networking space that you need multiple single panes of glass to manage everything in your network. Hmmm.
Let’s be clear. This approach by the vendors is not controversial – it makes sense for a large chunk of the market. However, the flip side is that it also opens up opportunities for other providers to step in and offer a solution and that’s what we’re seeing now.
Solutions like Zabbix, PRTG and Solar Winds (but let’s not talk about “that” incident again) are getting noticed and gaining traction. Zabbix is particularly interesting given it’s an enterprise-grade, open-source monitoring solution that goes beyond just networking to include servers, VMs, websites, certificates etc.
Once you’ve got the monitoring covered you need the management side, and a solution like Ansible is bringing multi-vendor automation, configuration management and application deployment to the market - enabling “infrastructure as code” via its suite of open-source software tools.
There are a number of these options available for organisations to consider and this article isn’t supposed to be a definitive guide to networking management options. We just wanted to give some airtime to a situation that has been evolving for a while and now reaching an inflexion point. Decisions on the right direction to take need to be made and you need to understand your options.
These options are further complicated by the emergence of Network-as-a-Service which runs counter to the traditional MSP-style network management mindset. In the NaaS world, you’re buying into the vendor’s vision and ecosystem for better or worse. It includes a transition period where existing equipment is replaced to allow you to reap the benefits of the utility pricing and delivery capabilities. You can then take advantage of the tighter integration between hardware and software enabling more intelligent automation capabilities.
On the other hand, the MSP mindset is still absolutely valid – choosing the best infrastructure for the job and the multi-vendor mindset regarding monitoring and management. It’s actually the exact scenario that we’ve had to go through here at MatrixCNI over the last 12 months as we’ve evaluated the pros and cons of NaaS offerings while we prepare to launch our own revamped MSP solution. (We will share more detail about our research and decision-making process in a separate post in the future).
Networking vendors are creating “platforms” (for want of a better term) that tightly integrate hardware and software capabilities to try and differentiate themselves from competitors. The “multi-vendor” mantra has slowly made way as vendors force customers to make decisions about future investment paths by changing pricing and capabilities of traditional monitoring and management tools to capture a greater share of the networking budget.
While the reasons for this make sense, they are painting themselves into a corner where they can no longer provide the multi-vendor support that organisations need.
Organisations need to look beyond the traditional vendor messages when exploring options here as the platform approach won’t suit a large section of the market. Relatively recent open-source management solutions are providing choice and should be part of your consideration set.
If you’d like to discuss more about anything discussed in this blog, we’d love to hear from you.