Cisco To Partners: Don't View SDN As A Hardware Killer


Software-defined networking (SDN) was bound to be a hot topic at this year's Cisco Partner Summit. But when Cisco executives took the stage Wednesday, their messaging, surprisingly, wasn't confined to the new opportunities SDN will drive for Cisco and its partners. Instead, it emphasized what SDN won't mean for Cisco and its partners.

"Let's talk about SDN," Rob Lloyd, president of Development and Sales at Cisco, told the more than 2,000 partners attending Partner Summit in Boston this week. "Because I hear SDN is an issue that's stalling out customers. It's causing them to stop and pause, and I'd like to spend a couple minutes on this one with you."

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Lloyd stressed to partners that traditional Cisco gear will always have its place in the network, despite industry speculation that SDN will be a major hardware killer.

"I now have 28,000 engineers that I listen to every day," Lloyd said. "And they are telling me that when you hear the conversations about SDN commoditizing networking and that it's going to kneecap Cisco and everything we stand for -- it's just not true."

Software-defined networking -- or a new approach to networking where the control plane is decoupled from the data plane, allowing for increased programmability and scale -- has been the talk of the networking world for over a year.

Industry analyst IDC has projected the SDN market to reach $2 billion by 2016, and major networking vendors, including Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks, have already rolled out SDN-focused offerings.

Cisco also is investing heavily in SDN through Cisco Open Networking Environment (ONE), what the networking giant calls a programmable framework for deploying more flexible, and application-aware, networks. But while Cisco has staked a claim in the burgeoning SDN space, it doesn't see the industry's shift toward software as a threat to hardware like ASICs, switches or routers.

"If you hear that SDN will commoditize hardware, it's absolutely a load of … fibs," Lloyd told partners. "And I want you to remember that."

Solution providers themselves aren't expecting SDN to have an immediate impact on their day-to-day Cisco business.

"I've been in this business a very long time, and in IT, most of the new stuff that’s announced like this is probably in the future, but it’s a lot further in the future than most pundits and most technologists would say," said Everett Dyer, senior vice president and general manager at Presidio, an Orlando, Fla.-based Cisco partner. "In my business, we are all about the practical application of technology for supporting business requirements. So [SDN] is an important thing to keep in mind, but I don't think it's going to have a major impact on the IT space to support businesses for a very long time."

Underscoring its commitment to hardware, Cisco unveiled this week a new family of its Catalyst Series switches said to be SDN-ready and the most energy-efficient in Cisco's line. The new Catalyst 2960-X Series supports layer 3 routing capabilities, boasts twice the bandwidth of its predecessor and can be used with Cisco onePK, a development toolkit that enables greater levels of configuration for Cisco routers and switches.

PUBLISHED ON JUNE 5, 2013