We specialize in “infra­structure” – products and services that neces­sarily have aspects of both networks and systems. It’s a great area for a small and specialized company because relatively few people understand both topics well, but you might wonder how big a niche it is – it sounds pretty geeky and specialized. We got into the space by chance having decided to broaden a specific study of Internet Caching into a more general report. Then we did research on load balancing because it seemed like another topic we have background in.

But if you look at the areas that we’ve examined in detail over the years, you’ll see it’s probably much broader than you mighthave expected…

IRG’s first research was into the emerging Internet Caching market in 1997.  From that first report until today we have emphasized research into “infra­structure” topics – topics at the boundary of networks and systems. Fully under­standing these market oppor­tu­nities require fluency and under­standing in both networks and systems perfectly suited to our “bilingual” history and interests.

Infra­structure doesn’t stand still. Over the years we’ve studied a diversity of emerging markets that all fall into this general category:

•Internet Caching and Content Delivery: in 1997 this was largely the commercial adaptation of the Open Source SQUID software for HTTP object caching. Since then network accel­eration has gone far beyond HTTP caching but object caching continues to be a key element in CDN or Cloud acceleration

•Traffic Management: Load balancing is a basic datacenter tool for avail­ability and scaling, as well as a funda­mental tool for performance accel­eration within the Internet (e.g., clever uses of DNS to pick a local instance).

•Route Optimization: For a while companies like Route Science and netVMG tried to create a market for picking among multiple network providers for optimal performance. A market for these products never materi­alized but the technology is broadly available (e.g., in Cisco’s Performance Optimized Routing).

WAN Accel­eration: When we started, Expand was the market leader, and then Peribit, and now it’s dominated by Cisco and Riverbed. Microsoft also partic­ipates in an inter­esting way, fixing many of the problems that create the need for these add on tools (e.g., CIFS chattiness) however the timescale of Microsoft’s impact is very long (5–10 years).

•Branch Office Archi­tecture and Data Center Consol­i­dation: Network performance issues encourage putting appli­cations and data near the user; the economics of support and security encourage consol­i­dating appli­cations and data into a few large data centers. Clearly these are strongly related topics.

•Security and Identity: The network is the greatest source of security threats. Devices that can perform real-time traffic inspection and processing on network flows (firewalls, intrusion detection and protection systems, proxy and caching systems) play a funda­mental role in providing security services. Identity is a critical part of the network infra­structure in order for secure appli­cations to be constructed.

•Video Delivery: Video attracts a lot of attention in the network equipment and service provider because of the amount of bandwidth consumed. Creating high-quality video streams cost efficiently is a technical challenge. Under­standing how to monetize Internet video is a great business question.

•Collab­o­ration: As it turns out, IRG has done research in collab­o­ration from the beginning. Today collab­o­ration is very much at the center of our interests.  Voice and video are demanding network appli­cations; Cisco believes that human collab­o­ration enabled by the network will be the next wave of the network broadly influ­encing the world; collab­o­rative appli­cations with global user populations is one of the clear use cases for Cloud computing.

•Appli­cation Delivery: Appli­cation Delivery is the business pioneered by Citrix with MetaFrame/Presentation Server/Xen App. This is a delightfully complicated and complex area simply because one size by no means fits all. The technologies range from remote desktop delivery, virtual desktops, dynamic appli­cation loading and WAN optimization.

•Virtu­al­ization: We started to get seriously involved with virtu­al­ization when VMware presented the concept of virtual appliances in 2006. Since then virtu­al­ization has only grown in importance. It fits nicely into our area of focus both because of the data center networking issues (e.g., evolution to 10G Ethernet and converged SAN and LAN networking) and because of the WAN optimization oppor­tu­nities the use of data center computing to a global user base presents.

•Data Center Networking: The network is a critical part of a large data center and the network is increasingly insep­arable from the platforms and systems running in the data center. In 2009 we started to see real movement toward 10G Ethernet, as well as Cisco’s initial drive toward converging SAN traffic onto IP networking as well as the first network systems designed to optimize virtu­alized computing.

•Cloud Computing/Utility Computing: Virtu­al­ization in turn has enabled exciting new forms of appli­cation delivery including shared private dynamic data centers (Utility Computing) and shared public data centers (“Cloud” computing). These devel­opments are both heavily dependent on data center networking and appli­cation delivery technology.

•OpenFlow — Starting as an effort among leading network researchers to make it easier to build and test research networks at real-world scale, OpenFlow has become an initiative with major economic impli­cations for large data center design and operation and beyond.

•Big Data — Originally created by Google in 2004, MapReduce is a framework for managing distributed computing clusters processing large amounts of data.  Subse­quently Yahoo! supported the creation of an open source version called Hadoop.  This in turn has been a catalyst for a compre­hensive set of tools designed to help organi­zations process large data sets which previously could not affordably be used.

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