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White box switching, .11ac pace networking in '14

The top networking stories of 2014 include bare-metal switching, security scares and Gigabit wireless.

Editor's note: In the networking industry, 2014 was a year for innovation and a wake-up call for security professionals. Vendors rolled out faster, more powerful switches and network components; at the same time, white box switching also gained traction as enterprises gauged the appeal of deploying commoditized boxes running third-party software in their data centers. The ratification of the 802.11ac wireless standard, meantime, fueled significant investments in higher-speed wireless networks, just in time for the introduction of more sophisticated mobile devices from Apple, Samsung and other vendors. Security also made the headlines and the news was decidedly not good. Retailers, financial institutions, government agencies, and most recently, Sony Pictures, were all victims of malicious attacks, and security professionals were faced with the prospect of reevaluating their strategies. Here are some of the stories, and topics, that paced the year in SearchNetworking.

Data center infrastructure                     

Dell partnered with Cumulus Networks to open up data center switches to support third-party software.

If you were in the market for data center switches, Cisco had you covered in 2014. When it announced a smaller Nexus 7700 switch, a higher-density Nexus 5600 switch and a copper Nexus 3100 switch, it expanded its Nexus line even further.

In March, SearchNetworking news writer Gina Narcisi reported the trend of white box switching was gaining traction in the enterprise. The flexibility and choice of software gave it a similar appeal to that of open source in the server market.

Facebook announced an internally developed operating system and hardware design and said it was going to submit the OS to the Open Compute Project.

Hewlett-Packard announced a new series of compact spine switches to build leaf-spine switches, an alternative to large core chassis switches.

A consortium of hyperscale data center operators got together to create a framework for 25 and 50 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) top-of-rack switches. Companies like Arista, Google and Microsoft said the throughput would give them more bandwidth for the dollar. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the governing body of Ethernet standards, said it would consider developing a 25 GbE specification but was lukewarm to the 50 GbE proposal.

Arista Networks created the industry's first top-of-rack switch with 100 GbE uplink ports. It also announced a universal transceiver for data center operators to upgrade network links from 10 to 40 GbE without replacing cables.

Cavium announced new Ethernet chips that it contended would dramatically decrease the time it takes to upgrade to new protocols. The XPliant Ethernet chip uses a software-based approach.

Extreme Networks built upon its software-defined architecture with new switches, new partnerships and more enhancements to existing SDN technology.

Security best practices

Cisco updated its CCNP Security certification curriculum with the objective to teach security professionals how to do their jobs as opposed to simply operating security devices.

Following German magazine Der Spiegel's revelations about the National Security Agency's strategy to systematically hack backdoors into routers, firewalls, PCs and servers from top vendors like Juniper Networks, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, SearchNetworking examined the steps network engineers should take. 

Healthcare networks experienced an onslaught of malicious attacks that put patients at risk. The compromised devices ranged from radiology imaging software and Web cameras to firewalls and mail servers.

Cisco announced a new threat detection service that tracks threats in real time and reports to customers when a threat has entered the system. The service, Managed Threat Defense, also offers advice for remediation.

Concern grew about an emerging networking protocol, multipath TCP, which offers resiliency and a performance boost to mobile devices and Internet of Things. The protocol, which supports the ability to send application traffic over Wi-Fi, 4G and Bluetooth simultaneously, is invisible to most security infrastructure.

McAfee created an end-to-end security platform that integrates its next-generation firewall, endpoint protection, threat intelligence, sandboxing and SIEM products.

After a series of highly publicized data breaches, organizations are putting off new projects because they don't want to put data at risk.

Network design and hardware

Riverbed, which at year-end agreed to be acquired by equity fund Thoma Bravo for $3.6 billion, upgraded its Granite storage and branch office platform to include storage, wide area network (WAN) optimization, virtualization and other services into a single device.

HP announced the 5400R chassis, the upgraded next-generation version of the 5400zl campus access switch. The product offers a switching backplane that supports more 10 GbE ports.

According to a research report from Dimension Data, half of networking technology -- including switches, routers and wireless devices -- are aging or obsolete due to the lag in the refresh cycle.

The eventual impact of bare-metal switching has yet to be revealed, but there is no question the networking approach has attracted attention. Network engineers had no choice but to deploy switches with vertically integrated hardware and software. Now, that's all changing and engineers are intrigued by the prospects.

The mysterious resignation of Juniper Networks CEO Shaygan Kheradpir after a review by the board of directors left many customers and observers wondering what really happened. In a press release, Juniper stated that the board and Kheradpir had different perspectives on leadership style.

Network management

Cisco upgraded its IOx platform with the intent of speeding up the adoption of the Internet of Things. The upgrades include an application management module for IT teams. 

NetScout spent $2.6 billion in acquisitions of Fluke Networks and other companies to expand its network performance monitoring strategy. It hopes to get more enterprise customers to use its Adaptive Session Intelligence technology.

Dynatrace and Compuware reshuffled their focus in the wake of Thoma Bravo's acquisition of the application performance management (APM) and mainframe services vendor. Under the new framework, Dynatrace is focusing on APM, promising a new era of pricing, expertise and agility.

Riverbed SteelHead 9.0 and SteelCentral AppResponse 9.5 platforms integrated WAN optimization and APM to manage the hybrid enterprise network.

Internet of Things

Securing the Internet of Things will not be a "one size fits all" approach. Separate industries require unique security strategies.

To keep up with the demands of Gigabit Wi-Fi, Cisco and other partners formed an alliance to create 2.5 and 5 GbE technology to enable faster data rates on Category 5e and Category 6 cabling.

WLAN

The year reflected a myriad of enhancements and new products as the newly ratified 802.11ac standard gained traction. Among companies announcing access points and controllers that supported the new standard were AirTight Networks Inc., Aruba Networks, Aerohive, Cisco, Extreme Networks, HP, Motorola, Meru Networks and Xirrus. The NFL, meantime, tabbed Extreme to supply wireless analytics across teams' stadiums; Cisco, however, ran into a blitz when some coaches complained about the vendor's spotty Wi-Fi service, which meant they couldn't use their tablet computers on the sidelines. Cisco vowed to address the problem.

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