Selling the intelligent network wiring closet

Users need more than commoditized switching in the network wiring closet to meet the demands of integrated wired and wireless, mobility, video and unified communications.

The data center and network core may be grabbing the attention of network engineers lately, but there have been important developments in campus switching and the network wiring closet that will help users meet the demands of mobility, Wi-Fi unified communications and video delivery.

The influx of complex Wi-Fi networks, mobility, video, IP telephony and POE endpoints, are driving demand for baked-in edge network intelligence and services, such as security, policy control, device management, traffic control and application delivery. Now customers are more willing to move away from inexpensive commodity switching at the edge, investing instead in network wiring closet equipment that will ultimately complement upgrades at the core.

“With all the talk about what’s happening in the data center and the network fabric – VDI, video and mobility – it’s all about end user experience and end-to-end services. That user experience is only as good as the weakest link. If organizations don’t pay attention to the wiring closet, all their investment may be for naught if they don’t have the right access technology,” says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research.

In addition, upgrades to the wiring closet for many organizations will be driven by the age of existing equipment and the need for a technology refresh. According to Kerravala about 35 to 40 percent of all that existing infrastructure is pre-Y2K.

Mike Spanbauer, principal analyst enterprise networking and data center technologies with Current Analysis, notes that the previous lag in enterprise wiring closet upgrades has changed over the past 12- 18 months.

“We’ve seen an uptick in purchases, some related to standard maintenance and upgrades, and other wiring closet technology purchases made by organizations preparing for emerging bandwidth requirements, 10GB aggregation links and more robust high availability,” he says.

At ePlus Inc., an IT products and services provider, CTO Mark Melvin confirms that there is a surge in the number of customers who recognize it’s time for new technology in the wiring closet.

“They have more critical applications, more video, more application data coming across the network, such as analytics; and in the case of healthcare facilities, everything they do is automated,” he says, noting that it’s important that applications get prioritized and that the network meets SLAs for end users.

Not only are ePlus customers upgrading existing networks but they’re also adding new closets. They’re beefing up port density, in some cases adding new switches or moving from a stackable switch to a chassis.

At systems integrator Layer 3 Communications, president and CEO Rodney Taylor reports similar activity.

“We’re seeing customer investment in replacing end-of-service, end-of-life equipment, which at the same time is being driven by POE and what’s going on in the core with server virtualization and applications driving the need for additional bandwidth,” Taylor says.

New network wiring closet product: port density, speed and power

No longer is wiring closet hardware defined by low value and low cost. The network from the data center to the LAN core to the wiring closet is all about high value and reliability.

To address customer need, vendors are revamping wiring closet switches with more intelligence, higher port densities, greater uplink speeds and more power capability.

Cisco, for example, refreshed it’s Catalyst 2000, 3000 and 4000 switching lines over the past 18 months with performance improvements of as much as six-fold, according to Wenceslao Lada, Cisco’s borderless networks worldwide channel vice president.

The switches also now offer the Borderless Networks portfolio features, including integrated security, wired and WLAN infrastructure management, QoS, and energy control.

For simplified LAN support, Cisco’s new Catalyst Compact Switches are deployed outside of the wiring closet on walls, countertops or mounted underneath desktops.

About a month ago, Brocade introduced its next-generation stackable ICX 6610 closet switch to handle mobility, unified communications and VDI. The ICX 6610 features higher speed, lower latency and lower cost than competitors, according to Joe Ammirato, senior director product management for enterprise campus with Brocade, who notes there are more switch upgrades to come in 2012.

Also vying for a slice of enterprise campus network market, Juniper introduced new wiring closet switches in its new EX Series Switches as part of its Simply Connected portfolio.

Industry watchers agree that in non-complex networking, one can build an argument for a commodity edge, with the branch office considered another wiring closet. But generally speaking, industry partners agree that what goes into the wiring closet dovetails back to what’s happening in the core. “We’re seeing a trend to push Layer 3 capability to the edge,” says Taylor.

Virtual switches have also emerged in the past 12 months with the ability to extend manageability from closet to closet as one device. “This creates greater operational efficiencies and makes upgrading code easier,” says Taylor.

There’s also greater opportunity to mix and match vendor products in the edge creating a strategy to maintain function at the edge and introduce better economics.

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