The 10 Biggest Networking Stories Of 2017

The Biggest Network Headlines Of 2017

The networking world will remember 2017 as the year intent-based networking and software-defined WAN took center stage with plans of redefining the network. Next-generation technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence made its way into the industry as leaders looked to make smarter, more intelligent and cost-effective networks.

The networking landscape itself was shaken up with vendors like Aruba and Extreme Networks making some serious advancements, while players such as Avaya and Brocade Communications had a rough 2017. As the market tries to reinvent itself in the digital age through software and subscription-based selling, 2017 was truly a transformational year for networking. CRN breaks down the 10 biggest stories of 2017 that captured the network world's attention.

Get more of CRN's 2017 tech year in review.

10. Cisco And Google Team Up

In Cisco's biggest cloud news of 2017, the San Jose, Calif.-based network leader revealed a blockbuster partnership with Google providing Cisco with a bridge to next-generation public cloud technologies, including Kubernetes. The Cisco and Google Cloud hybrid cloud offering, which will become available in the second half of 2018, opens the door for developers to combine emerging Google Cloud services with Cisco on-premises networking, hyper-converged, and security offerings. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said the partnership gives customers "the very best cloud has to offer – cloud speed and scale, coupled with enterprise-class security and support." Google Cloud leader Diane Greene took center stage alongside Robbins at Cisco Partner Summit 2017 in November to tell partners that the search giant will be depending on Cisco channel partners to drive the new joint solution in 2018.

9. UC Blockbuster: Mitel-ShoreTel Merger

In one of the largest unified communications mergers in years, Mitel acquired ShoreTel for $530 million to create one of the largest UC-as-a-service vendors in the world. The acquisition gives Mitel annual sales of $1.3 billion and will double its UCaaS revenue to $263 million. The combined company will operate as Mitel and have approximately 3,200 channel partners and 4,200 employees, as well as a much broader collaboration product portfolio. Mitel also expanded its market presence this year with the purchase of UC assets and support contracts from Toshiba.

8. Avaya Hits The Wall In 2017

Avaya kicked off 2017 by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an effort to combat its billions of dollars of debt. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based unified communications specialist sold its entire networking business this year to Extreme Networks for $100 million, which many believe to be a steal as Extreme said it expects to generate $200 million in annual sales from the Avaya assets. In a failed attempt, the company also tried to sell its multi-billion dollar contact center business. The company implemented corporate cost-cutting measures which included $400 million in headcount reductions and $200 from cuts associated with declines in product revenue. Avaya's CEO Kevin Kennedy stepped down in August after eight years at the helm, replaced by Avaya's former chief operating officer and global sales leader Jim Chirico. Avaya officially exited bankruptcy on Dec. 15.

7. Vendors Double-Down On AI, Machine Learning Capabilities

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) might top this year's list of buzzwords in the networking industry as vendors look to automate network operations in order to cut down manual tasks and create more cost-effective networks. Industry leaders like Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, is leveraging AI to better secure the network, while Juniper Networks looked to do the same with its acquisition of machine learning security startup Cyphort. Cisco placed some of its largest bets on AI and machine learning in 2017 by acquiring machine learning data startup Perspica and AI collaboration specialist MindMeld for $125 million. The network leader also launched new machine learning and AI-power services and products including Spark Assistant.

6. Cisco Faulty Component Issue Hits Partners Wallet

Cisco on Feb.2 disclosed that multiple product lines – including its popular Nexus switches, ASA firewalls and Meraki cloud-based managed switches – contained a faulty clock signal component that caused the systems to degrade over time and fail after 18 months or longer in production. The network leader declined to cover on-site services costs for partners who were proactively swapping out the faulty Cisco equipment. Cisco also said it would not provide a product replacement if the customer's solution was not under warranty or covered by any valid Cisco services contract. Partners were the ones who shouldered the cost for what amounted to a massive product replacement effort, potentially costing the channel millions. Other vendors like Juniper Networks and HPE were also hit by the faulty component issue, but weren't impacted nearly as much as Cisco.

5. SD-WAN Hits Its Stride As Market Consolidates

Software-defined WAN was one of the hottest networking topics of 2017 as telecoms and network leaders doubled down on SD-WAN investments. Vendors like Comcast, Windstream, AT&T, CenturyLink and China Telecom launched a plethora of new SD-WAN offerings this year. In two blockbuster SD-WAN acquisitions, Cisco acquired startup Viptela for $610 million, while VMware purchased startup VeloCloud for an undisclosed amount. Additionally, Riverbed acquired Xirrus this year to deliver an "unmatched SD-WAN offering" to fuel growth in the surging market. Research firm IDC estimated that worldwide SD-WAN infrastructure and services revenue will grow 70 percent annually for the next four years, reaching more than $8 billion in 2021.

4. Extreme Networks Boosts Market Position, Aims At Cisco, HPE-Aruba

Extreme Networks reinvented itself in 2017 as a force to be reckoned with in the enterprise networking market through strategic acquisitions including the purchase of Avaya's networking assets and Brocade's data center business. San Jose, Calif.-based Extreme now has the largest networking portfolio in the company's history with the goal of winning more market share over competitors Cisco and HPE-Aruba. Solution providers also increased their bets on Extreme in 2017 thanks to the revamped portfolio, as well as a new unified Partner Program.

"The way we think about Extreme now in the marketplace is, we are really the only alternative to Cisco as it relates to end-to-end, the data center and all the way out to the wireless edge," said Dan Dulac, vice president of product management and strategy for Extreme, in an recent interview with CRN.

3. Brocade-Broadcom-Ruckus Channel Madness

2017 was a difficult year for Brocade Communications and Ruckus Wireless channel partners as they waited in limbo for nearly the entire year to get clarity on the future of the vendor. In November 2016, Broadcom unveiled its intent to acquire Brocade for $5.9 billion with plans to divest Brocade's IP networking business, which included Ruckus. The Broadcom-Brocade acquisition hit several delays, which saw major leaders like longtime Ruckus CEO Selina Lo and channel chief Sandra Glaser Cheeks leave the company alongside hundreds of employees. Many channel partners struggled to close deals amid the restructuring as Brocade began selling several technology assets to various vendors. The dust finally settled by the end of 2017 with Extreme Networks buying Brocade's data center networking business, and Arris snatching up Ruckus and Brocade's ICX switching family.

2. Aruba Unveils Core Switch While Gaining Market Momentum

Aruba brought its cloud-first software into the heart of corporate networks in 2017 with its first-ever core switch, the Aruba 8400 Core Switches Series, powered by a new operating system. Dubbed the Cisco "Catalyst Killer," the campus switches were purpose-built for the changing traffic patterns created by mobile and cloud business applications, extending Aruba's intelligence from the edge to the core.

Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, also gained market share this year in various networking segments. For the first time ever, IT research firm Gartner ranked HPE-Aruba's wired and wireless LAN critical capabilities technology ahead of all competitors in 2017.

1. Cisco Brings Intent-Based Networking Mainstream With Network Intuitive

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said the networking giant is "redefining the network for the next 30 years," at the launch of its Network Intuitive platform. The intent-based system can anticipate actions, stop security threats and continuously evolve and learn. "Two years ago, we had $1.9 billion on our balance sheet in deferred revenue from software and subscription, and last quarter that number was $4.5 billion. The big question is, 'Can you bring that to your core?' And today we are bringing a subscription methodology to our core networking portfolio," said Robbins, referring to the platform. Included in the platform was a new line of Catalyst switches, revamped IOS software, and new security and analytics offerings.

With the launch, Cisco pushed intent-based networking into the mainstream audience. Many network startups such as Apstra and Forward Networks were founded around intent-based networking, which seeks to automate the lifecycle of network infrastructure and services through software that improves network availability and agility. Intent-based solutions combine software-define networking, machine learning and other innovative technologies to make it easier to design and operate networks.