Cisco, The Borg And The Future of Networking

LAS VEGAS — Reporter’s Notebook: After spending the better part of a week in Vegas looking at the latest and greatest that networking vendors have to offer at the Interop 2006 conference, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, the world of networking and Las Vegas are two of a kind when it comes to indulging in excess. Secondly Cisco is the Borg (of “Star Trek” fame).

Allow me to explain.

The show floor was full of over 350 vendors of all stripes: security, core networking, VoIP, acceleration, monitoring/management and everything in between. To the naked eye, it was bunch of boxes lined up on the show floor, many of them performing similar functions to their competitor’s boxes, and each booth vendor claiming their particular box was better than their neighbor’s.

InteropNet, the network built just for the show, featured the proverbial “conga line” of appliances that vendors are pitching to enterprises: security, routing, connectivity and networking, for example.

Certainly the purpose of the InteropNet was to showcase technology. But I saw more than a few show-goers cringe when looking at the InteropNet NOCs (Network Operations Centers) and the myriad of devices therein. Enterprises, so far as I can tell, are looking for fewer devices that do more, not more devices that do less.

Got the NAC?

Clearly one of the major themes this year was NAC (network admission control) methodologies. Spheres of influence divided the show floor between those who will support Microsoft’s NAP (Network Access Protection), those who would support Cisco’s NAC and then those who are in the Juniper and Trusted Network Computing (TNC) camp.

The InteropNet labs even had a section showing how to implement the various control technologies. Yet despite what the vendors were pushing, in every session I attended in which NAC was mentioned, the speaker asked participants if they currently had NAC or were planning to deploy NAC. A few hands went up.

The 802.11x standard , which essentially achieves the same basic goals as NAC, is also not yet widely deployed, but it is for the most part a component of all new enterprise networking routing and switching equipment.

So is NAC an example of the networking market’s excess? Possibly. But it also does serve a very important function. It further consolidates power in the network.

Which bring me to the Borg.

The Borg, of course, are cyborg creatures from the “Star Trek” Universe. The Borg operates in a “collective” where each is aware of the other in a large pervasive network of Borgs. It’s a network that is pervasive, always on, self-aware, adaptable and self-defending. The Borg assimilate new technologies into their collective with the aim of assimilating everything into their network.

It’s sort of like Cisco.

John Chambers, CEO and Chairman of Cisco, explained his vision for the network in his keynote: The network is the platform.

It is pervasive, somewhat-aware and self-defending. Cisco, of course, acquires, or in Borg terms, assimilates new technology as part of its growing network.

His vision is not without its detractors. I briefly spoke with Scott Kriens, chairman and CEO of Juniper Networks about Cisco’s vision. He pointedly refuted Chamber’s theme. For Kriens it’s not about being the platform, its more about openness and standards as he described in his own keynote on day two of Interop.

So more Star Trek terms here. Kriens advocates a sort of Federation of networking vendors utilizing common standards as opposed to the Cisco view of network platforms.

So in my world view of networking you can look at the future of networking as Borg-like or Federation-like amalgam of networking technologies.

Personally, I’m not sure what’s better. The Borg, though the obvious bad guys in “Star Trek” are really only after achieving perfection. Who among us doesn’t want a perfect network?

Then again, the price of perfection comes at the price of individuality and freedom.

Will all networks be assimilated into one massive network platform? Is resistance to the new paradigm futile?

Only time will tell.

For now, at least, the excesses of the multitude of competing forces in the networking market will likely serve to not only line the pockets of networking vendors, but will also continue to allow enterprise users to choose (their poison).

Choice to boldy go is a good thing too.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor for

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