The networking fear will make Cisco an SDN winner

SAN JOSE, CA - AUGUST 10:  A sign is posted in...

SAN JOSE, CA – AUGUST 10: A sign is posted in front of the Cisco Systems headquarters on August 10, 2011 in San Jose, California. Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

There have been a lot of writings around Cisco’s software defined networking strategy and today I took the opportunity to talk to Ian Foddering – the company’s UK CTO – about them.

Many of the accusations coming from the industry focus around the issue and belief that the networking colossus is still trying to trap people into buying their hardware, whilst appearing to be moderninsing and going down the software route too.

The “Oracle” approach as one colleague called it – look at how necessary Sun kit became in the software firm’s mantra – promotes the need for software and hardware to work hand in hand for SDN and that there is no better way for them to operate smoothly than if they come from the same development labs.

The strategy is not a foolish one. Networking may not be the sexiest of the infrastructure elements, but it is the scariest. I have read numerous studies and spoken to many industry leaders about how the hardest thing to sell into a company is networking as everyone is so frightened to touch what they have, even if it isn’t working, in case it brings the whole datacentre down.

If you have Cisco kit – which the vast majority of companies still do – and they offer you a way to take advantage of SDN but without having to change everything, many will leap at the chance.

It doesn’t promise the best innovation though as this, as ever, is coming out of the small start-ups or “niche” companies as Foddering liked to put it. Cisco’s failed attempt at acquiring Nicira – we were informed of this by a rather senior Silicon Valley networking chap – meant they lost out at buying this talent in and whilst Foddering would not say whether it would look to acquire another SDN specialist, it would clearly give Cisco a bit more credibility in the space.  

So the choice on the cards for the businesses starting to look at trialling SDN technologies is this: the big safe option which gets the job done or the riskier smaller option that could get it done even better.

I have a feeling that for Cisco this will play out well as no one is going to lose the fiddling with the network fear any time soon. I just hope it keeps its promise of working with partners or acquiring technology “if it complements the strategy” so some of these more hidden technologies see the light of day. Then the customer should win.

But, in the meantime, let the little guys keep competing with one another to be the one Cisco buys. The battle will ensure some great technologies, the eventual acquisition will ensure it makes it into the datacentre. 

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