Extreme Networks' new product roadmap has a catchy name -- Make Your Network Mobile -- but it might be a little misleading since the plan has little to do with iPhones, tablets or moving around between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
But it does have to do with creating consistent intelligence within its range of products that the company says will lead to better end-user experiences as they work from mobile devices that are connected to networks built on Extreme gear.
"That's a broader way of defining mobility," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "Mobility means motion, not just wireless. To be mobile, you have to be able to re-create the same user experience from device to device."
The initiative is more about mobile applications, the mobility of virtual machines and making sure the network that supports them delivers a high quality user experience, says Rohit Mehra, an analyst with IDC.
"Applications can move from one virtual machine to another virtual machine within the same data center, and you need an efficient network behind it," he says.
Extreme says its roadmap will unfold in five phases over three or four years.
Much of what's in it is similar to what competitors Cisco, HP, Juniper and others already have or are planning, Mehra says, but often Extreme has better pricing. "If you're using an alternative solution and want a second vendor you certainly want to look at how the total costs of ownership compare," he says. "Compare and contrast your current needs against what Extreme has today and what is on the roadmap short-term and medium-term."
Kerravala says the roadmap calls for wireless LAN enhancements, APIs into Extreme's operating system to customize switch features and more vision in data center architecture, but if the company can pull it off, it could attract customers. "Right now it's an execution challenge for Extreme," he says.
Upgrades to specific products that will roll out this year include adding black and white lists to Extreme's Identity Manager software. It will also support creation of security zones defined by IP and MAC addresses and subnet. These zones can be associated with policies so, for example, a guest could be denied access to an internal zone.
The company plans to expand its support for the virtual Ethernet port aggregator standards as they develop. VEPA enables physical switches to take on the role of virtual switches, and Extreme will expand its support to more vendors of NICs and servers.
It will also add support for Microsoft's Hyper-V virtual environment and support dynamic VLAN assignments.
Phase 2 of Extreme's roadmap, which will roll out during the course of this year, calls for providing identity management tools that can determine who users are, what device they are using and what resources they are authorized to use.
The tools will make it possible to enforce these rules, but not end-to-end, according to David Ginsburg, the company's new senior vice president of strategic marketing. Networks in this phase will be marked by pockets identity awareness only, he says, and switch ports that will be configured automatically based on policies.
These pockets will be tied together in Phase 3, which will start rolling out in 2012, Ginsburg says, by adding a policy and control layer to network management to provide identity management features. This will likely be achieved by partnering for a policy-management layer in its software.
This phase will also include efforts to flatten Extreme's data-center architecture from five tiers to three, he says. This includes pulling virtual switch functionality away from hypervisors and putting it into Extreme's top-of-rack switches.
The company also says it will boost the density of data-center switches later this year in an effort to combine the aggregation and core switching tiers into one, according to Ginsburg. He says the company will look to other hardware vendors to provide gear that enables top-of-rack switches to interface with a dispersed switching fabric within the data center.
Phase 4 brings this identity management into cloud infrastructures, so if a business application on a virtual machine in a private network migrated to a server in a cloud network, end users would automatically be able to reach the new instance of the application without knowing about the move, he says.
In the final phase, identity management will be extended to mobile carrier networks that use Extreme's recently announced E4G mobile backhaul routers. So mobile customers using 4G networks will be able to receive tiered bandwidth services.
The Make Your Network Mobile name alone will make Extreme stand out, Kerravala says. "I don't know of any other switch vendor marketing around mobility," he says. "It's a gutsy move. It's the best positioning they've had in a long time."
And if it succeeds? "It isn't going to make them Cisco," Kerravala says.
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.