Cisco’s Spending Spree: An Analysis

This November Cisco bought three companies in the space of about 10 days. I’ll examine whether these purchases are part of a larger strategic move, or simply the result of internal competition among Cisco’s business units.

Greg Ferro

December 6, 2012

5 Min Read
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The holiday shopping season is in high gear, but consumers aren't the only ones opening their wallets. Cisco has been on its own buying spree lately, picking up two software companies and a WLAN vendor in the month of November.

Of the three companies recently purchased--Cariden, Cloupia and Meraki--Cariden is the most striking. Cariden's core software product could best be described as path and network analysis software. It gathers configuration data from the network devices, then maps data into a network graph, performing mathematical modeling to deliver predictive analytics and resource mediation of the carrier network.

Cariden has solved key analytical problems such as bandwidth structuring, resource prediction and path weakness in the carrier networks. In discussions with Cariden earlier this year, it was clear to me its technology could readily be adapted as an SDN application.

In a Cisco context, Cariden is a mature and proven software platform that carriers trust for network planning and design. Integration with Cisco's OnePK SDN strategy means that Cariden can close the loop from a "read and report" operation to "read, analyze and configure" for dynamic network configuration. And this matters for demand placement in terms of allocating bandwidth on different paths in carrier backbones on a time of day (sometimes known as "routing for dollars").

The Cloupia acquisition is intended to bolster Cisco's data center software automation suite. Cisco already has the Intelligent Automation for Cloud and Network Services Manager options from previous acquisitions, but these tools focus only on Cisco and aren't usable for customers with non-Cisco assets, such as storage arrays.

Cloupia's software provides automation within converged infrastructure stacks for tasks such as server provisioning, VDI and orchestration across the compute/network/storage stratum.

This is the first sign that Cisco realizes it must integrate with partners to provide cloud automation. Until now, Cisco has made software for Cisco products and no one else's. Cisco "encourages" customers to buy only its products by refusing support or integration. Until Cisco buys, at least, a storage company, then third-party integration in cloud platforms will always be a requirement. As such, Cloupia provides a mechanism for integrating NetApp and EMC storage into a Cisco private cloud based on UCS servers and Nexus networking.

And, finally, Cisco has a better chance of going head to head with EMC's Ionix in global accounts. EMC's software portfolio is an enormous revenue and profit center for the VCE joint venture and, if stories are true, a source of much angst between Cisco and EMC executives because EMC garners as much as 75% of the profit in a vBlock sale.

As for Meraki, it seems most likely the WLAN vendor was acquired for its cloud management platform, given that Cisco already has a large wireless portfolio with wide customer acceptance (if not always a high degree of customer satisfaction).

The cloud-based management involves devices located at the customer premises sending data over encrypted Internet connections to an off premise service. The complexity of wireless networks requires software tools to manage, monitor and maintain access points and controllers--the CLI simply isn't enough to keep the system under control. That challenge is exacerbated if you have a network with many remote sites, each with its own WLAN. The cloud platform provides a unified management interface.

Next page: Coherent Strategy LackingThere is no coherent, companywide strategy in these acquisitions. Instead, we're seeing piecemeal deals struck by different business units as these units compete to grow within a shrinking and changing market. Cisco continues to look for more revenue and profits to keep its shareholders content, but when a company has more than 65% of network infrastructure marketplace, and gross margins of 65%, the only competition is really yourself. The fact is, Cisco is many fragmented businesses that compete with each other as much as external companies.

The Cariden acquisition shows that Cisco's Service Provider team understands the threat that software platforms pose to device sales. Having control of the incumbent software "controller" gives Cisco better control of the market.

Cloupia boosts the existing orchestration tools for Cisco's server and virtualization team by adding decent automation for non-Cisco products. This also positions Cisco better in the VBlock /Flexpod market for converged orchestration.

Finally, Meraki will be used in the Borderless Networks team to provide cloud-hosted management services for resellers to pass on at cost plus 10%, and further undermine the reseller revenue of professional services.

It's worth noting that none of these acquisitions is all that large by Cisco standards. Yes, Meraki was picked up at a premium for $1 billion, but mostly in shares rather than cash. Cariden was a $141 million deal and Cloupia went for $125 million.

Compare those sums to March 2012, when Cisco acquired NDS for $5 billion. NDS offers "video software and content security solutions that enable service providers and media companies to securely deliver and monetize new video experiences" (whatever that means). Clearly, John Chambers' apparent fascination with video remains insatiable.

If there is one overarching theme to these acquisitions, it's software. Cisco's various business units are buying the expertise they need to build software products. Cisco has repeatedly failed to deliver acceptable software in the past--products like CS-Mars, Access Control Server, Java clients and Cisco Works have highlighted the poor quality of Cisco executive leadership when it comes to software. We'll have to see if the injection of new software developer blood will have a positive effect.

About the Author(s)

Greg Ferro

Network Architect & Blogger

Greg has nearly 30 years of experience as an IT infrastructure engineer and has been focused on data networking for about 20, including 12 years as Cisco CCIE. He has worked in Asia and Europe as a network engineer and architect for a wide range of large and small firms in many verticals. He has been writing about networking for more than 20 years and in the media since 2001.

You canemail Gregor follow him on Twitter as@etherealmind. He also writes the technical blogEtherealmind.comand hosts a weekly podcast on data networking atPacket Pushers.

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