Here and There in Networking

We have a number of interesting items today, ranging from OTT to handsets, so let’s get started!

Yahoo’s latest step in reinventing itself is the acquisition of Tumblr, a “blogging site” that’s in some ways a mixture of Facebook-ish, MySpace-ish, WordPress-ish, and other concepts.  At a high level, Tumblr is a adspace wrapper around a bunch of content, a portal to collect it so that it can be monetized.  Right now, of course, there’s not much monetization going on and the big fear of Tumblr users is that monetization will get in the way of how the site works.  It will, of course; the trick for Yahoo is “not screwing it up” too much.  There are three risks to overcome.

Risk One for Yahoo is that this consumer reluctance to surrender more will become a determination to surrender less.  Facebook’s fervor to capitalize on user data to make money has turned off many users.  Freebies offered in sweepstakes to induce the sharing of private information are, according to my sources, being accepted less often.  Is a one-in-a-million shot at a trip worth perhaps ten grand worth a lifetime of junk emails for you and perhaps for friends as well?

Then there’s Risk Two.  Remember that online advertising, like all advertising, is a zero-sum game.  The fads of today are bleeding the leaders of yesteryear.  Facebook, as I’ve noted, is already pushing the boundaries of ad sponsorship to drive up it’s revenue and redeem its stock price.  That’s a very big gorilla to be striving against in the marketplace.  Tumblr also has some of the same problems with potential advertising YouTube had, only perhaps more so.  The site has never been strongly policed for content, which means that there are many things there that advertisers would find problematic.  Does Yahoo clean it up to make it more ad-friendly?  If so, there are many who will “take their blogs elsewhere” as some have threatened to do.

Risk Three, the “Geocities problem” of a barrage of ads that inundate and disgust current users, seems to be the least of the risks because Yahoo has some control over it and because they understand from their past history what can happen if they move too fast.  The key for Yahoo is to do something seen as positive that’s linked to new ad opportunity, not paste ads all over what’s already there.  Can that be done?  Possibly, but how quickly it could be done and whether the other two risks will cut into opportunity in the meantime is the big question.  Yahoo like all companies is under pressure to show positive financial momentum.  The Tumblr deal will only make the pressure more intense; a billion dollars is a lot to bet.

There’s a rumor afoot that Google plans to incorporate OpenFlow into Android.  Before you rush out to protect your network from handsets acting like OpenFlow controllers, let me try to reassure you.  First, this rumor is just that, and second the likely application of SDN to handsets would involve them accepting commands not generating them.

End-to-end SDN is critical for the utility of the concept; there are just not enough value propositions to drive widespread use if SDN is locked in the data center.  One of the value propositions for end-to-end SDN is the control of mobile networks, Evolved Packet Core in the metro.  Another is application security and performance management via segmentation of user access.  Both of these could converge in the handset.  If Android were to provide for software virtual network termination, then software VPNs could be extended all the way to the user to provide for security and application segmentation.  It would also potentially help companies wanting to secure corporate data and access.

But if we were to reconceptualize mobile networks based on SDN principles, we might see these same software overlays managing the tunnels that the PGW and SGW and so forth cooperate to manage today.  Could we create an end-to-end mobility architecture based on SDN that might employ OpenFlow to link users to it?  Sure thing.  I think this demonstrates how important it is to think of SDN beyond the data center.

Speaking of SDN, SDNCentral ran an interview with Juniper’s SDN leader, formerly the CEO of Contrail, Ankur Singla.  The most interesting point in the piece was the comment that there were two use cases for SDN—enterprise multi-tenant clouds and NFV.  This is the first time I’ve seen a key Juniper figure talk about NFV as a specific target for its SDN strategy.  The question is whether he means it, and if he does whether the rest of the Juniper team will go along.  Juniper’s SDN story (and its NFV story) have been diluted by the fact that everyone seems to want to tell the stories in their own way.  With the market trying to find a useful SDN model, it’s only harder if you can’t even agree internally on where to look.

Juniper has been doing some very interesting and very good NFV work behind the scenes in the working groups.  They recently submitted a contribution that’s IMHO as good as any that have been contributed so far, one that demonstrated an understanding of NFV principles.  And it’s true that there is a significant SDN component in NFV.  But since NFV isn’t all SDN (in fact, most isn’t) the understanding that Juniper has reflected in its latest contribution may be critical because Juniper will have to advance its NFV strategy based on something like that.  Clearly they know how from the NFV side, but do they know where it fits into Juniper’s product line?  If all the strength of their contribution is shoehorned into a narrow SDN footprint they’ve sold themselves short.

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