Whether network intelligence will eventually rest in switches or as an overlay of specialized devices depends on to whom you talk. The appeal of incorporating these features into existing switches is obvious, but networking vendors have had trouble keeping up with the features offered by specialized appliance vendors in the past.
“Five years ago many people predicted that Packeteer would die because Cisco would take over much of its functionality,” says Gartner’s Willis. “But it is still very much around. Changes in applications are faster than Moore’s Law and the specialized box companies are often better at keeping up.”
Gartner’s Skorupa agrees. “You can put a blade in a switch, but that alone is not compelling,” he says. “You have to ask yourself whether buying an integrated product gives you more benefit than a standalone solution with more features.” For now it makes sense to take a targeted approach that solves the specific problems you’re trying to solve, with an eye on how initiatives like HP’s Adaptive EDGE and Cisco’s AON develop. Application-level standards are another piece missing from the puzzle. But despite the hurdles yet to overcome, the intelligent network train is definitely out of the station. It’s just not clear what its final destination will be.