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June 24, 2014

Is Cisco failing the software defined networking market?

The networking firm’s approach is “very old school” and “expensive”.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

Cisco will struggle to compete against rivals, such as Alcatel-Lucent, Riverbed and Juniper, in the software defined networking (SDN) market, despite its slew of product launches.

That is according to Brocade’s SVP and GM of software networking Kelly Herrell, who claims the networking firm’s proprietary approach to SDN could make it difficult for it to maintain its share in the market.

Cisco builds its software platform on top of its Nexus switches, which are controlled by application policy infrastructure controllers (APICs).

This approach aims to improve troubleshooting problems faced by virtualised networks by making applications the centre of all network-related decisions.

Herrell told CBR that Cisco’s approach to SDN is "very old school" and "expensive".

"I’d challenge you to roll through any of the press releases of theirs in the past six month and see if they ever really talk about SDN," he explained.

"They’re very concerned that the world is moving towards software and not hardware because they make their business selling a lot of hardware and so they’ve started trying to coin a different phrase called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).

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He added: "Their intent is to redirect away from software and say the way that you solve the problem is use of these hardware boxes.

"I don’t think history has been kind to companies that did not adapt their business model aggressively enough. Their failure to adapt is what created the opportunity for rivals who were very nimble and did come out with different business models to succeed."

Akshay Sharma, Gartner’s research director who specialises in software-defined networking at Gartner, told CBR: "The industry will need ecosystems of partners here from back office service orchestration and automation, to service assurance and diagnostics and analytics, to newer billing systems, to policy controllers, along with newer API’s to support innovation within the DevOps style of development.

"One company alone may not have all of the functions needed and it will take a village or community to deliver all of the above.

"I believe Cisco is moving towards this vision, but I also believe they will pitch a Cisco-only approach if they are to guarantee an end-to-end SLA for example their InterCloud, which will require transport, routing, network functions on servers."

Meanwhile, Cisco announced last week its intent to buy network orchestration specialist Tail-f Systems for $175m, in efforts to establish open standards and open network architectures to support multi-vendor environment.

Cisco’s SDN approach has also signed on over 150 clients so far and has grown its pipeline to almost 1,000 customers during the quarter, according to Forbes.

The firm, which released its software-based Application Policy Infrastructure Controller last year, is also looking to transition to a licensing system for service providers.

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