Why SDN is Critical to the Future of Cisco

Overview

In mid -June 2012 at its large customer event (Cisco Live), Cisco unveiled a key  SDN/OpenFlow announcement- see http://www.networkworld.com/news/2012/061312-cisco-sdn-260138.html for the announcement overview.   Cisco ONE or One PK is actually a series of products that roll out over the next 6 months to enable customers to better program their networks.

Benefits

Cisco has made a comprehensive announcement that will allow its customers to start the migration to SDN with or without OpenFlow.  Programmability can take place at various levels of the network stack from transport through application (management) layers.  This is very much an evolution (not revolution) that will appeal to the very large Cisco installed base.   The announcement of ONE PK gives Cisco a clear SDN strategy for its switching and routing products.

Opportunities/Challenges

Cisco is a large company with dozens of products that directly or indirectly relate to its SDN strategy.  It will need to carefully coordinate engineering efforts to sync its release trains – and avoid confusing customers.

Cisco customers and partners will require significant education as to Cisco SDN and OpenFlow offerings.  One way to address this is for Cisco to showcase internal and external development releases that truly illustrate the benefits of Cisco ONE.  Cisco needs to build an “ISV” community where customers and partners can easily see and leverage development code, and APIs that utilize ONE PK.  Cisco should look at various open source efforts for best practices.

Cisco needs to integrate its SDN strategy with the rest of Cisco – large parts of Cisco relate to this strategy including:

  • Its Data Center team (server, storage, etc) – hyperscale data center users will be leading edge SDN adopters
  • Unified Communications – UC  (voice, video, WebEx, etc) are a series of applications that can benefit from improved network programmability
  • Cisco Prime Network Management – Cisco has not explicitly tied Prime to its ONE announcement, SDN is all about making the network easier to configure, change, and manage
  • Cisco Security – Changes in network architectures (e.g. SDN) will require new security paradigms, Cisco security products should be linked closely with its SDN offers
  • Service Provider – SDN has the potential to significantly impact telecom infrastructure (not just in the data center) – SDN should be related to Cisco’s ability to improve CSP operational agility

Recommendations

SDN and OpenFlow have broad implications for the future of the network industry in terms of products, market share, and margin.  Cisco should leverage the “buzz” around SDN in general and OpenFlow in particular to articulate its broad vision for the future of the networked enterprise (e.g. what is its vision for the enterprise in the year 2020).  This would take the form of a broad architectural vision with multiple phases – for those who remember SONA take 2.   This will help the broad range of Cisco internal stakeholders, partners, and customers to understand the future of the intelligent network and how the Cisco SDN’s strategy will help to make networks more flexible, easier to manage, secure, and programmable.

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