• 06/13/2012
    4:02 PM
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Cisco Describes SDN Strategy, Sets Industry Back 10 Years

Cisco says forget about SDN and separate data and control planes, it's about programmability.

Cisco wants to rely on the smarts in the router and switch, in part because it's proven to work, and in very large part because most of the value add Cisco provides is in the smarts built into each of those boxes. In a pure SDN network, with the smarts kept somewhere else, the switches themselves quickly devolve into commodity products with commodity pricing. That is something no Cisco shareholder wants to hear about. So Cisco gives you "choice." You'll be able to take a Cisco switch, with all its built-in smarts, and use it in an SDN environment. Of course, if you do, you'll have paid for all that autonomous smart stuff, but you won't use it. In fact, you'll pay someone else for it.

Moving from the environment we have today to a fully SDN/Controller model is a huge transition--the sort that happens over a decade or more, with leaders like Google doing it right now, and the rest of figuring it out over time. What Cisco calls "choice"--meaning you can use the same gear in a controller-based network or an autonomous one--is really taking away one of the primary advantages the controller approach, that being cost savings. In an open standards controller environment, not only should the switches be dumb, and therefore cheap, they also must be highly compatible. There's no extensions, no added bells and whistles. Compatibility, performance, and reliability are what will distinguish vendors.

Now if you sell controllers, it's a different story. There will be lots and lots of ways to judge those systems, and a company like Cisco would obviously have quite an advantage there, but it's proprietary antics would largely have to work up the stack, and not back to down to the switches.

OnePK, while welcome, will also slow down the move to SDNs. First, competitors will have to respond, and it appears as though there's a lot to OnePK. Second, customers will have to determine if OnePK truly does meet their needs for network programmability, and if it does, they'll have to assess whether they really want to jump into a fully blown SDN where they'll have little expertise.

Cisco is good at staving off competition of any sort, so this response shouldn't be too surprising. Sure, it's protectionist, and sure, the industry could get to pervasive use of controllers much faster if Cisco was all in on the technology. But that was never likely to happen. Juniper and others aren't yet convinced they should modify their architecture either. Innovation is often a long hard path, and it just got a little bit longer for SDNs.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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