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Kevin Fogarty
Kevin Fogarty
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Cisco Boss Makes Contradictory Assumptions About Virtualization

Cisco CEO John Chambers says smart hardware software is inextricably linked; VMware users beg to differ. How much control should a vendor have over a virtualization strategy?

SDN is still a nascent technology. Definitions are still flexible, and the percentage of adopters is still in single digits, so Cisco isn't catastrophically hidebound on the issue yet. It was one of the first to build virtualization into its own products, but mainly virtualization of products from other companies, not from Cisco.

Cisco's SDN strategy depends on its proprietary Open Network Environment (ONE), which--oddly for any type of virtualization plan--depends partially on features and functions built into Cisco routers and switches, but not anyone else's.

Cisco also offers Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV) and Virtual Device Context--proprietary network virtualization functions as Layer 2 networking extensions--to support bridged connections between data centers within a private cloud network.

It's not exactly unique in that, though. It has moved slowly enough in the race to create efficient ways to connect multiple WANs (without gumming up Ethernet layouts or changing existing applications) that HP's comparatively tiny networking group was able to catch up to, according to Network Computing.

Painting Vendor Lock-in With Happy Colors

Tying network hardware and software inextricably together may provide some demonstrable technical advantages--Cisco claims better security and app performance optimization by tying to its hardware--but requires users to stick with Cisco hardware or buy only from other vendors that are close allies of Cisco.

High-performing, reliable networks, Chambers implies, can work only with existing, proven networking technology; virtualization can be added as a programmable layer of software across the top. "That's a tall order," according to the wryly dry understatement of Network Computing's Mike Fratto.

Not only is it a tall order, but it's also one that handicaps both it and its customers with the need to preserve Cisco's legacy hardware business at the potential expense of customers trying to build networks that are flexible and configurable according to their priorities, not Cisco's.

Of course, Cisco is the company that forgot to ask permission before forcibly upgrading the firmware on some products and replacing the on-machine management interface with one that forced users to create a new account on Cisco's Connect Cloud in order to manage devices they already owned. It also warned it would be keeping track of "certain information related to your use of the Service, including but not limited to the status and health of your network and networked products," which is enough to give even the least paranoid network admins nightmares of Big Brother.

Cisco did back down and allow users to opt out of its supervised management interface. The whole thing smacked of arrogance and a powerful effort to ignore the potential impact on or reaction of customers--very much the kind of thing a company would do that hadn't quite reformed its lack of attention to its own customers, as Chambers said Cisco has done.

Overtly stating that one's hardware products would be inextricably linked to the virtualization software providing functions users want to add also smacks of arrogance--the kind that assumes Cisco customers should toe the line on its interpretation of virtual networks rather than their own needs or desires.

It's not the kind of position you'd expect from a company that would willingly support a customer's desire to cut the ties between control of a network and the provision of it.

Next: Customers Don't Care If Vendors Believe in Virtualization; They Just Want It

Kevin Fogarty is a freelance writer covering networking, security, virtualization, cloud computing, big data and IT innovation. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN.com, CIO, Computerworld, Network World and other leading IT publications. View Full Bio
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