Extreme Networks technology chief lays out vision at Toronto event

Extreme sees the edge as the most exciting part of the network – like much of their competition. They also believe however, that their design philosophy will give them a different kind of edge over the competition moving forward.

Nabil Bukhari, Extreme Networks SVP Products

TORONTO — At the Toronto stop on the Extreme NOW road show, Extreme Networks’ Nabil Bukhari, their SVP Products, provided the attendees with an update on the company’s road map, and even more critically, their design philosophy and how they believe it differentiates them from their competition in the enterprise networking space.

Bukhari laid out to the audience Extreme’s philosophy around what they are doing.

“Why are we building what we are doing,” he asked rhetorically, indicating that his goal was to provide a view of what Extreme designers are thinking when they are building something.

“The networking is fundamentally changing, not because new technologies are coming all the time, although they are, but because enterprises are changing fundamentally,” Bukhari said. “The definition of an enterprise in five years will be fundamentally different. We are the number three player in the market. We are not a niche player. So we have to anticipate and start building those solutions today.”

Bukhari stressed that the evolution of networking has moved away from simply providing efficient connectivity. Connectivity matters, and  remains a key prerequisite. Analyst Zeus Kerravala, who had come to the Extreme event from the Enterprise Connect show in Orlando, regaled the audience by telling them that the Wi-Fi at the Gaylord, where Enterprise Connect was held, wasn’t working properly, so the vendors who were at the show to demonstrate the proficiency of their new solutions, couldn’t do demos. Still, when the connectivity works – and it usually does – it’s still far from the totality of the story.

“Today we live in a world that is defined by the fact that we are all connected – where we demand an only-channel experience, a uniform experience,” Bukhari said. “That singular experience is the key to everything networking.”

Extreme’s design philosophy is all about providing that singular experience, Bukhari emphasized.

“It’s a fundamentally different way of looking at the enterprise,” he told the attendees. “Technology for the sake of technology means nothing. Networking is now much more than connectivity. Across the enterprise, the application of the right tech in the right place for the right reason is the difference in whether your business is successful or not. You need to think about it in that way, and it is a fundamentally different way of looking at it. It’s a very exciting phase of networking. We are not the plumbing any more. It’s more like a nervous system.”

It’s a world where CXOs want to use networking as a differentiator.

“All Tier One vendors provide good connectivity, but no CXO responsible for technology who is looking at how they are going to compete and use technology as a differentiator would ever say all the Tier Ones are the same,” Bukhari said. “They are looking for something that can give them an edge, in the same way that a smaller shoe maker looks for something that they can do better than a Nike. Providing that edge is where we really shine.”

Bukhari emphasized that all three components of Extreme’s portfolio –  Agile Data Centre, Automated Campus, and Smart OmniEdge at the edge – have unique capabilities.

“The infrastructure has to be optimized for where you are deploying it in the infrastructure layer,” he said. “Yet we are also the only company that collects all analytics through one application, and can provide a uniform experience, covering all aspects from onboarding to smart analytics and security.”

A key reason for this differentiation is that much of the portfolio came in through the Brocade, Avaya and Motorola technology acquisitions in 2016. However Bukhari said that this presence of a different code base from legacy Extreme technology – Brocade being central to the data centre, Avaya to the campus, and the Motorola technology from Zebra at the wireless part of the edge – doesn’t matter when it comes to managing it.

“The management layer comes from heritage Extreme. It manages a lot of different operating systems, but almost all are Linux-based, so 70 per cent of the components are the same. Only 30 per cent are different. That will remain. Extreme Management Center [XMC] is the great equalizer. Any of the products can be managed and configured from the same single pane of glass.  Once they understand XMC they can run the entire Extreme portfolio.”

That allows for what Bukhari sees as a key technological differentiator over their competition.

“It allows us to customize for different parts of the network, with the management the same on top,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds. It avoids the two extremes with Cisco, with IOS being standardized on one end, and Cisco-Meraki being the extreme at the other end. We are in the middle. We can provide a consistent experience, that still allows for customization, and optimization for how each component is deployed, We are doing it fundamentally different, from a strategic point of view.”

The edge is becoming an increasingly critical part of networking and Bukhari said that Extreme is positioning itself well there.

“Most companies give a definition of the edge based on the products they have,” he said. “We describe the edge based on the experience – any way, shape or form but a secure experience-based definition as they connect to the network. We play in a lot of edge – not all , but that’s okay.”

One area where Extreme does play is the Internet of Things.

“The IoT is such a huge part of edge technology,” he said. “It has completely flipped the switch and changed the way that the technology operates, because of the magnitude of the scale. In addition to the massive number of devices, you have much more diversity of devices than elsewhere in the network, with multiple generations of IoT devices on networks as well. You also have no control over software on the sensors. Security is an issue because most weren’t built to be secure and you can’t run AV on them. It all sounds a lot like a service provider network and their problems, and it has fundamentally changed the way networking and the edge happens. Onboarding is key, and AI which figures out the behavior of these end devices is critical.”

This focus on the edge is part of the reason why Bukhari, who is from California, relocated to Toronto last fall.

“My wife is from Toronto, and we have a small child and those family considerations are important,” he said. “But I’m also here because of how important the edge is. We are in that phase of networking where the edge is the most exciting part of the network, and all my edge team is actually here in Toronto. It’s the right place for me to be.”

It’s also going to be the right place for more technologists at Extreme working on the edge.

“We are hiring for R&D in Canada,” said Paul Semak, Extreme’s Toronto-based VP of Sales and Operations, Americas International, who recently joined the company from Cisco, where he had worked since the last century. “We are expanding.”