Juniper Networks has added to its EX series a core aggregation switch aimed at enterprises with campus networks that are too small for the company’s EX9000 line.
Like the EX9000 series, the EX4650 — a compact 25/100 GbE switch — uses network protocols typically found in the data center. As a result, the same engineering team can manage the data center and the campus.
“If an enterprise has a consistent architecture and common protocols across networks, it should be well-placed to achieve operational efficiencies across the board,” said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC.
The network protocols used in the EX4650 and EX9000 are the Ethernet VPN (EVPN) and the Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN). EVPN secures multi-tenancy environments in a data center. Engineers typically use it with the Border Gateway Protocol and the VXLAN encapsulation protocol. The latter creates an overlay network on an existing Layer 3 infrastructure.
Offering a common set of protocols lets Juniper target its campus switches at data center customers, Casemore said. “That’s a less resistant path than trying to displace other vendors in both the data center and the campus.”
Juniper released the EX4650 four months after releasing two multigigabit campus switches, the EX2300 and EX4300. Juniper also released in February a cloud-based dashboard, called Sky Enterprise, for provisioning and configuring Juniper’s campus switches and firewalls.
Juniper rivals Arista and Cisco are also focused on the campus market. In May, Arista extended its data center switching portfolio to the campus LAN with the introduction of the 7300X3 and 7050X3 spline switches. Cisco, on the other hand, has been building out a software-controlled infrastructure for the campus network, centered around a management console called the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Center.
Along with introducing the EX4650, Juniper unveiled this week improvements within its software-defined WAN for the campus. Companies can use Juniper’s Contrail Service Orchestration technology to prioritize specific application traffic traveling through the SD-WAN. The capability supports more than 3,700 applications, including Microsoft’s Outlook, SharePoint and Skype for Business, Juniper said.
Juniper runs its SD-WAN as a feature within the company’s NFX Network Services Platform, which also includes the Contrail orchestration software and Juniper’s SRX Series Services Gateways. The latter contains the vSRX virtual firewall, IP VPN, content filtering and threat management.
Juniper has added to the NFX platform support for active-active clustering, which is the ability to spread a workload across NFX hardware. NFX runs its software on a Linux server.
The clustering feature will improve the reliability of the LTE, broadband and MPLS connections typically attached to an SD-WAN, Juniper said.
BOSTON — Recent advancements in the iOS development community aimed at simplifying AI models with Swift have opened up the potential of mobile app machine learning.
Users have come to expect mobile app machine learning to be a part of every technological interaction they have on their phones, and developers should consider implementing machine learning into their apps’ features. Here at this week’s SwiftFest event, developers discussed how machine learning reached this point, the future of mobile app machine learning with Apple’s Swift development language for iOS and how it can be applied.
Why does machine learning matter for mobile?
By creating a machine learning model, mobile app developers can create applications to do more without developers individually programming every action and reaction. Machine learning technology can see the rules that shape a pattern and predict future events, while people are limited by their own imaginations, said Ray Deck, CTO of Element55, a time-tracking software provider in Cambridge, Mass, in a session.
The challenging part of creating an AI model in the past has been collecting the quantity of examples a machine needs to correctly identify what it is seeing. For example, if the technology needs to correctly identify one person from an image, it would need to collect a proportional number of images to the size of the neural-network model developers were creating.
About five years ago, a breakthrough in organizing neural networks — deep learning — created a faster way to write models more accurately. This opened the way for computers to begin to accurately predict patterns or identify subjects through machine learning models.
“If we just try to write these models ourselves, we won’t get it right,” Deck said.
Why could Swift be the future of AI?
The future of machine learning may be on the side of Swift developers. With the release of several new software development frameworks — Swift for TensorFlow and Apple’s own Core ML 2 and Create ML — developers do not need to know as much to incorporate mobile app machine learning.
“Machine learning is more accessible with the latest releases of iOS that they have been doing, and it invites me to explore more and try to use some of that technology in our apps,” said Jaime Santana Ruelas, a software engineer at Cisco.
Ray DeckCTO of Element55
In March, the Swift for TensorFlow team at Google announced its open source project. Python has been leading the way in TensorFlow, despite TensorFlow being written in C++ — a variant of Objective-C, which lends its runtime library to Swift. Creating models with Python is slow, however, and with Swift for TensorFlow, developers can have more creativity when building AI models, Deck said.
“You get that high-level language experience of Swift and that compile performance associated with the runtime, creating a more natural connection, because you are compiling straight into [TensorFlow],” he said.
This month, Apple announced Create ML and Core ML 2 to simplify the creation and implementation of app machine learning models. Create ML enables developers to create machine learning models more easily in Swift through more of a drag-and-drop experience. Plus, developers don’t need to have as much technical knowledge to use Create ML. Core ML 2 boasts faster processing speeds and a smaller model size to implement AI models into apps.
“Swift is defining a new golden path of usability for consumption and creation and potentially advancing the vanguard of automatic differentiation,” Deck said. “The most powerful models may yet to come.”
What can mobile app machine learning do?
In an interview after the session, Deck said app machine learning has been growing based on two factors: the supply increasing quickly due to better techniques developed to create AI and the demand users have for the promise of AI.
“The promise of AI is that we’re carrying not just a camera, but an eye in our pocket, [for example], and being able to have software make decisions based on what we see or an advanced understanding of it,” he said. “It helps people make better decisions.”
People already use AI technology in their fitness watches. Mobile apps could take this further by aggregating data to predict health risks and warn users if they are following a path that models previously predicted would lead others to be taken to the emergency room. In the enterprise, mobile app machine learning could help business travelers get a ride or put email messages in spam folders.
App machine learning can also allow devices to respond to people’s voices. Martin Mitrevski, a technical lead at Netcetera, a software company in Switzerland, works with AI to create conversational user interfaces that can complete tasks, such as creating a list from voice commands.
“Anything you can imagine can be made smarter with AI,” Mitrevski said. “Pretty much any industry will be disrupted with AI and machine learning.”
An application deployed today looks nothing like it did a decade ago.
Traditional applications aimed to tackle large business objectives, used lots of custom code to do it on the front end, and required significant infrastructure resources to support all of that on the back end. Modern apps, on the other hand, target specific user needs, take advantage of standardized programming languages and APIs, and rely on virtual and cloud-based resources that reduce back-end consumption. Most importantly of all, they’re designed for a mobile, distributed workforce that accesses these apps from a variety of locations, devices and networks.
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“More and more work is being done on smartphones,” said Myckel Haghnazari, director of IT emerging technologies at supply chain company Flex. “This morning I walked into Starbucks, approved a help desk ticket for an employee requesting new hardware and approved [paid time off] for someone going away … all while ordering my coffee on the way to work.”
That change in work style has largely driven the evolution of apps. As more employees work from mobile and remote devices, they require access to corporate applications on demand, with the data they need, when and where they need it. In response, organizations have turned to more streamlined, single-purpose apps that connect to multiple back-end resources. These apps, sometimes referred to as micro or workflow apps, also take into account common business processes and allow for customization where necessary.
“Often, employees will interact only with a subset of functionality offered by a comprehensive legacy app,” said Adam Holtby, senior research analyst at Ovum in the U.K. “Micro apps … enable IT departments to quickly mobilize this subset of capabilities that are important to employees and commonly used, improving the user experience.”
Vendors such as Capriza, HopTo and PowWow Mobile originally occupied a corner of the mobile application development market for transforming legacy software into mobile apps — an approach known as application refactoring. But over the past three years, those vendors pivoted to offer more options for building unique mobile apps that don’t simply mirror desktop applications. And the market itself has evolved to include other rapid mobile application development (RMAD) providers such as Sapho, SkyGiraffe and Alpha Software. Even bigger names have gotten into the market, such as VMware, which announced a Mobile Flows feature for Workspace One at VMworld 2017.
Analyst Kurt Marko discusses the benefits of enterprise mobile apps.
“Organizations have no choice but to have staff on hand to support their legacy environments, but the other side of the coin is they’re finally coming to recognize that that staff can use better tools to accomplish that,” said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research. “RMAD is disrupting the traditional method of maintaining those legacy applications.”
The emergence of this new breed of mobile application development tools and apps means organizational leaders must ask themselves numerous new questions: Do we need developers on staff or just citizen developers — dev-savvy IT and business people? Do we want to build apps from scratch or rely on templates? And what kind of data sources do we need the apps to connect to?
Low-code hits the target
A critical capability of purpose-built mobile apps is their ability to connect to the large systems that organizations have long relied on — think SAP, Oracle and other customer relationship management and ERP software. But instead of providing one massive software platform that users must navigate, organizations can create multiple smaller apps for specific uses.
Titan Machinery, an agricultural and construction equipment dealer based in Fargo, N.D., started using Capriza to build mobile apps in 2015. Since then, just two IT people have designed and now manage 37 apps for around 800 users. The company uses Oracle’s JD Edwards ERP system that different employees access for different purposes. With Capriza apps, technicians, truck drivers and other employees can access just the data they need from that system through mobile, task-specific applications.
Titan considered building mobile apps from the ground up using Oracle tools, but Capriza’s ability to simply customize the app interfaces and database connections in-house was intriguing, said Rick Keller, the company’s director of business applications. The company had previously consulted over several years with third-party developers to help customize the ERP system, and it didn’t want to keep having to do that for the mobile deployment.
“[Capriza] is really easy to work with,” Keller said. “We didn’t want to have to hire anyone with special coding requirements.”
Capriza allows app designers to pick and choose from different options for presenting information to users, such as through dropdowns and other menus. Then the designer can select whatever pieces of data they want those fields to pull in from the ERP database or other back-end system.
One of the first apps Titan developed was a delivery and pickup order app that allows truck drivers to collect digital signatures from customers and automatically file that information in the ERP system. It also lets users take pictures of damaged equipment to send back to central offices. Another app allows field technicians to track work orders, clock into and out of jobs, and add notes about their work through voice memos, which improves efficiency, Keller said.
Myckel Haghnazaridirector of IT emerging technologies, Flex
“They’re not writing notes down on paper and having to bring it back to the shop and have everyone enter them into computers,” he said.
Like other RMAD tools, Capriza’s mobile application development software allows apps to simply inherit the security and compliance policies that are already applied to the back-end systems they connect to, which is another benefit, he added.
Despite the ease of development, building these types of mobile apps does require the designer to have a strong knowledge of those connecting systems. That’s not always possible if organizations adopt RMAD tools for inexperienced developers to use, or if a different group within IT has ownership over the back-end system in question. Keller, on the other hand, helped build the original ERP for Titan Machinery, so when it came time to transition to mobile, he understood the workflows users required.
“To get the most success out of this, … the person that’s going to design these apps should really have a good understanding of the business [uses],” he said.
Developers still wanted
RMAD capabilities are useful in companies that don’t have development expertise or just need to deliver basic apps to a manageable number of users. But plenty of organizations still want to develop apps from scratch because their uses require more customized code or they don’t want end users controlling the development strategy.
“The whole trend of the citizen developer is real and it’s happening, but not everyone is going down that path because not everyone can,” Klein said.
Larger companies in particular tend to adopt RMAD tools specifically to better enable the developers or IT administrators they already have on staff, he said.
“They’re really keen on going the lightweight app approach because they’re solving very specific workflows,” he added.
For Flex, a global manufacturing and supply chain services provider based in Singapore, the right fit to provide that capability was PowWow Mobile.
With about 200,000 users across more than 100 sites in 30 countries, Flex needed apps for many different purposes. The company uses custom-built apps, SaaS products and other on-premises enterprise software. Some of those offerings have mobile versions, but since the apps are not specific to Flex’s processes, it needed to build its own mobile apps that would streamline and enhance the experience for end users, Haghnazari said.
Haghnazari’s team has used PowWow to build apps for reviewing and approving time and attendance, indirect procurement and event management. Other apps on the roadmap include one for managing repairs and returns, one for tracking inventory via barcode scanning and another that centralizes approval request workflows from various different apps.
“That solves a big problem for anyone that has to jump back and forth between 15 different applications,” Haghnazari said.
PowWow includes both drag-and-drop design functionality, which allows app designers to create a basic user interface, and a code engine that allows for development from scratch. Experienced in-house developers at Flex use both components on all apps. Some RMAD products don’t have as much custom coding capabilities, however, which can be a limitation for organizations that need to deliver apps that target very specific, complex use cases such as manufacturing.
An advantage of PowWow over some competitors is that the people creating the apps don’t have to be administrators of each back-end system they’re connecting to, Haghnazari said.
“The developer can come in and … bypass the infrastructure and database layer and just start creating,” he added. “The technical piece is very easy.”
Developers actually spend more of their time on the requirements gathering phase, where they determine what features users need, rather than the development, Haghnazari said.
Organizations that want to go mobile can benefit from delivering single-purpose apps to targeted groups, and today’s flexible mobile application development tools can help do that. And once employees start getting used to their new mobile apps, it’s all up hill from there.
“We just … take the paper away,” Keller said. “Once they [use an app] two or three times, they’re like ‘well this is way easier.'”