For Customers, It's About Applications and Devices, Not Networks: Avaya's SVP

As an industry veteran, how do you think the networking business has evolved over the years?

Avaya got into the networking business via the acquisition of Nortel which has been in the industry for over 20 years. Every five years, tEvery few years, the networking business sees a lot of changes. For example, in the 90s, infrastructure was a big play. In the 2000s, with the advent of technology, the focus was to improve performance and make user experience more palatable. In the last few years, the challenges for the network has been to effect transition to the mobile environment or leverage collaboration, to ensure a release from being tied down to a brick and mortar structure and connect anywhere, anytime and over any media or any device. Applications play a key role in business, and therefore, customer experience and network architecture should be thought through in order to improve application performance, because eventually, it all boils down to two things: Applications and devices. Customers will assess you by the quality of services you deliver to them. They will use cloud computing as a benchmark, and that's the reality. So, when you think of your network assets, typically, you have a physical network that aligns you to resources. For example, at an airport, they have a network for the lounges, check-in desks, CCTV cameras, and these constitute physical networks.

Similarly, in a datacenter, you could have a virtualized datacenter, but to get there, you would have to take a physical path. Therefore, you would have to spend a lot of money and resources to get these independent networks.

At Avaya, our transition in the networking space has been to move to Ethernet fabrics. The entire network is built on a flat fabric base, which means that all networking elements can communicate with each other. The virtual networks are built on top of that physical fabric. So, there's actually one network which looks and acts like four independent networks. That's where the network infrastructure is headed. Network industry is moving away from just creating siloed networks (speeds, protocol etc) to solving business problems.

"SDN allows organizations to have an infrastructure that lets them scale out to control the network so that applications can communicate with middleware and the middleware, with devices."

How is Avaya readying for software-designed networking?

When you think of SDN, and what businesses need to solve, it's the communication between applications, the network, and devices. The network is now being treated as an underlying layer and has no indication of what you're running on it. SDN allows organizations to have an infrastructure that lets them scale out to control the network so that applications can communicate with middleware and the middleware, in turn, can communicate with devices. At Avaya, we call it application-defined networking. We are able to establish a communication layer between the application platforms and the network. This layer has the ability to understand the quality of a particular network connection, and tell the application about the same. This solves 50 percent of the network issues when you try to collaborate.

According to a report, global Ethernet switch revenues topped $5 billion in 2012. Even your overall revenues have grown. What's the secret?

The main contributor is putting in place a unique strategy. You don't realize the uptake in revenues for multiple quarters. You see the demand for collaboration is taking off, and a lot of it has been driven by users. In the past, the demand for network and network revenues was mostly dictated by the growth in the enterprise. Now, just the consumption of data is causing Ethernet to grow, regardless of whether enterprises are growing or not. A lot of growth in Ethernet switches is also attributed to the dynamics of the 2000s.

The fluctuations in the economy caused a lot of enterprise customers to delay upgrading their network. But now that's changing. The amount of data consumption is forcing companies to upgrade their networks.

How have some of your acquisitions revamped your product offering?

At Avaya, we have the applications, clients and the networking capability to bring that user-experience and solve business problems. That was one of the major reasons Avaya bought Nortel assets and took advantage of the networking components to be able to offer an end-to-end stack of communication tools. In terms of our collaboration offerings, with the advent of FaceTime and Skype, not just Indian, but customers worldwide too want immediate video communication. At Avaya, we recognized that collaboration is a real-time application and that we need to be able to offer our customers a high-definition video offering at low-bandwidth. We bought Radvision for that reason. So at a time when other vendors are thinking bigger is better, we focus on ease of usability, quality, and agility in our products.

Shubhra Rishi is a correspondent for CIO India and ComputerWorld India. Send your feedback to Follow Shubhra on Twitter at @ShubhraRishi.

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