It’s time to serve up year-in-review content appetizers for your New Year’s Eve party. So break out the bubbly and read up on some of our favorite topics: Software Defined Networking (SDN), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and the cloud.
I’ll get to the content shortly. First, I’d like to thank you, my readers. The Rayno Report set a new record in 2014, with our little website growing 150% in terms of unique users. It’s a high-quality audience of the big-brained people in technology and finance, focused on how technology and communications networks are changing the future of business.
The Rayno Report has big plans in 2015, as the number of contributors and breadth of our coverage will expand significantly. More news on that next week.
Let’s get on with the list of stories that generated the most buzz in 2014. This list is not based on any one metric, but gleaned from a combination of story traffic, social sharing, and community feedback.
Here they are:
In June we reported that Cisco CEO John Chambers might retire by year-end. Yes, we’re still waiting for this to happen. With only a few hours left in the year, there’s a high probability this story was wrong. Well, at least we did say “May.”
Some of you are asking: “Scott, what’s up with that?” I recently followed up with sources to find out what went wrong. One of my two sources confesses he might have gotten part of it wrong (you think?) “Didn’t the CFO retire? Maybe that was the story.” True enough, Frank Calderoni, Cisco’s long-time CFO, is retiring at year end. CFO, CEO? I don’t know.
Whether or not Chambers feels compelled to leave, there’s still plenty of chatter on the topic in the company HQ. I expect pressure on Cisco to make long-term changes to ratchet up. Continued reports out of Cisco HQ point to a paranoid and confused workforce. After years of mass layoffs, can Cisco set a new growth vision? It sill seems like a natural time for a transition.
The news that Verizon (NYSE:VZ) has started testing a large “White Box” network came as big news. For those of you not familiar with the concept of the white box, it’s one of the biggest shifts in networking technology in more than a decade.
White box networking goes like this: There used to be separate computer and networking hardware. Computing hardware is largely based on standard server chips (more commonly x86 Intel hardware), while the networking hardware is often built on proprietary platforms (Cisco, Juniper, and others). The cloud is blurring the lines between networking and computing, so these platforms are likely to merge. Software Defined Networking (SDN) is enabling both functions to be performed on open, X86-based standard hardware. This is the future.
Most cloud providers, including Google (Nasdaq:GOOG), Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN), Rackspace (NYSE:RAX) and others, have already moved to SDN and server-based white boxes. The last hold-outs in proprietary networking gear — the service providers — may now also be starting to move. AT&T is testing out the SDN and white box approach now that Verizon is testing the waters, it’s a real trend.
The most important new IPO of a networking technology company in 2014 was Arista Networks (Nasdaq: ANET), a maker of data-center switching gear.
When shares of Arista Networks (Nasdaq: ANET) debuted on June 6, they jumped 35 percent above a final offering price of $43, giving the company a market capitalization of about $3.75B. Arista shares recently changed hands around $60, after hitting a high near $95 for the year.
Co-Founders Andy Bechtolsheim, Arista’s chairman and chief development officer, and CEO Jayshree Ullal, formerly of rival Cisco, minted hundreds of millions of dollars in the IPO.
The Arista Networks’s IPO needed a little more drama. Arista rival Cisco provided that by launching its most visible lawsuit in a decade, suing the company, citing infringement on more than a dozen patents.
Cisco’s attack was well-timed and got lots of PR mileage. It came just after Arista’s stock price had hit a new high of $95, and the suit contributed to driving down Arista’s stock price and doing some damage to the Arista brand in the PR field. But you know how lawsuits work: This is likely to drag on for years and make many lawyers rich while resulting in a settlement.
5) Eleven Ad-Tech Visionaries
Corey Kronengold, our expert commentator from the world of digital media, gave us a great list of Eleven Ad-Tech visionaries (our lists go to 11), which took off in the world of viral content. For those of you know familiar with ad technology, it’s changing the way that businesses target our eyeballs — by tracking nearly everything we do and matching it with relevant advertising (sometimes).
Jerry Seinfeld might be right — all advertising is lying — but it’s certainly a gigantic business, and it’s driven more and more by technology. This is a trend that will continue in 2015 as a healthy bubble of ad-tech venture-backed startups moves along the pipeline, and it will be interesting to see which one of these is able to go public or take it to the next level in 2014.
In August we pointed out that Cisco and VMware (NYSE:VMW) were intertwined in a joint venture know as VCE that was likely to run into trouble, given both companies were ramping up competitive SDN strategies for attacking the data-center center market.
Indeed, VCE, which sells data-center hardware and software, became a conflict for both companies. It turned out we were right. It was only a little over a month later that VMware’s majority owner, EMC (NYSE: EMC) announced it would buy out VCE, leaving Cisco with only a small stake. In a sense, it was a divorce. And VMware kept the primary residence.
In June of 2014, worries had started to percolate that AT&T was massively scaling back its capital spending as it saw new SDN technology as a way to reduce overall costs. Is SDN both a blessing and a curse to networking startups?
The cheerleaders downplayed this story just as it was gathering steam. The news culminated in the announcement in November that it would shrink capex by 15% during 2015. This is a huge move for a major service provider that has generally kept capex fairly stable over the years. Some people — including many Wall St. analysts — got this story wrong.
Some big funding rounds and partnerships boosted the valuations of SDN startups in the past year.
Cumulus, one of the hot startups in SDN that makes its own brand of Linux OS, led the field earlier in the year. Dell was one of the big suppliers to strike a deal with Cumulus in early 2014, coinciding with Cumulus taking on a new round of investors that gave it a valuation in excess of $300M, according to our sources.
What’s happened since then? While some SDN startups have run into trouble, the valuations in the top tier, including Cumulus, have grown. We also expect some news earlier next year confirming gains for some startups, as white-box networking becomes a more mainstream approach.
This gets my vote of the stealth story of the year, and shows how some startups are succeeding by striking important channel deals. Pluribus Networks, ranked highly on our list of top SDN startup, struck an important and strategic deal with Super Micro Computer (Nasdaq: SMCI), a manufacturer of hardware designed for data centers.
This deal summarizes many big trends we were tracking in 2014, including data-center growth, the move to virtualized cloud software, open SDN hardware & software, and the uptake of the white-box model for networking.
Meanwhile, Super Micro’s stock price has been rising steadily. This is a very interesting development, because the market is telling us something. White boxes could be huge.
10) The Patronizing Culture of VC Panels
Need to include one fun story here, so why not pick on VCs (venture capitalists)? Some of them are our friends, but as a culture they are not well regarded. This usually comes out in public speaking opportunities, in which VCs tend to patronize you and brag about their successes, which often just fall into their lap. This story got a lot of play on social networks as the crowd cheered and jeered. Apparently, we’re not the only ones to find the khaki-and-blue-shirt crowd a tad pedantic.
Of course our list goes to 11! In early December Ciena broke out big plans for Networking Functions Virtualization (NFV), which includes its Agility software and development platform to help service providers build virtualized communications services in the cloud.
Given the conservative and boring approach of most telecom equipment suppliers, this was an aggressive an interesting move that revived interest in Ciena’s stock price, which had been previously pummeled by AT&T’s capital spending reductions.
That’s all I’ve got before hitting the bubbly. Cheers and Happy New Year!