NASHVILLE, TN — The future of the network will be in its role as a backbone for “the autonomous enterprise,” networking vendor Extreme Networks said Tuesday in the opening of its Extreme Connect user and partner event here.
While digital transformation — every 2019 technology conference’s favourite topic — is still a strong undercurrent, it’s distinct from Extreme’s vision of the autonomous enterprise. As Nabil Bukhari, executive vice president of product, put it, digital transformation is the application of technology to build competitive advantage; the autonomous enterprise is about the application of learning and insights to build competitive advantage.
“It’s when you marry machine learning to human intent to deliver sustained, constant, persistent performance,” Bukhari told attendees. “And above all, it’s human. It’s you.”
It’s a shift that will further strengthen the movement in networking away from the primacy of the box, and towards value being driven and advanced by software. From Bukhari and CEO Ed Meyercord, the focus of the presentation was on driving business outcomes for customers, even if it means helicoptering staff into the airport in Bangalore to solve performance issues with an overburdened network without incurring additional downtime.
Autonomous enterprise will mean driving AI and ML into all of the company’s offerings, and the first of the new generation will be ExtremeAI Security, a software offering Bukhari demonstrated at the event. The software as shown acts as a “digital assistant” for enterprise security, with a voice interface by the name of Ela. Bukhari demonstrated the software responding to voice requests for status information, as well as recognizing an unusual device on the network doing unexpected things, quarantining the device and flagging it with security staff to validate its assessment and take further actions.
Bukhari said the software would also grab data from other security packages to provide better understand the environment and ultimately make better decisions.
The product will help address “the irony of security today,” said Volker Kull, CTO of Bell Computer-Netzwerke, a German Extreme partner and one of the first partners to have access to the ExtremeAI Security. The irony he describes in most security approaches today is that they depend on database-centric products that are mostly unable to adapt at the same speed attacks can.
“We have to add new technology, we have to introduce intelligence into the security environment,” he said.
The network gaining more autonomous features, as it has through the various flavours of software-defined over the last decade and will continue to do as more AI is driven into the network, may be daunting to network professionals in end-user organizations and traditional networking VARs who fear their skill sets and their value-add, respectively, will be reduced by more built-in intelligence. Extreme’s answer to that concern — as it almost always the case — is to focus up the stack, on business innovation, rather than the “keeping the lights on” basics.
A group of analysts argued that nobody’s looking to flip the switch to the network on fully automated, but good help from intelligence built into the network will help those highly-skilled individuals and organizations get more done and focus more on high-value topics.
“If you’re doing something that is not core to your business or key to your resumé, don’t do it. Find a way to automate it,” advised Zeus Karravala, founder and principal analyst of ZK Research.
This year’s Connect is about the “reintroduction of the new Extreme,” said CEO Meyercord. With the significant acquisitions of assets from Zebra, Brocade, and Avaya in the rearview mirror, the CEO says the company has quietly developed into a company with “the scale to compete with anyone in the industry” and “the only player solely focused on networking.”
Meyercord acknowledged, though, that building a company through multiple acquisitions brings with it challenges, and stressed that the recent past had been spent its own digital transformation — one to make the company into truly one organization.
“We’ve invested tens of millions of dollars to make it easier to be an employee, a partner, or a customer of Extreme,” he said.
Crucial evidence of that is the development of the Extreme Dojo, a self-training online training system initially made available to Extreme staffers, then last year expanded to partners. This week, the company opened the doors of the Dojo to its entire customer base.