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Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has confirmed that Insieme -- with an "e" at the end -- is working on software-defined networking (SDN) and that the project is, indeed, another spin-in from former Cisco executives.

CEO John Chambers confirmed Insieme's existence and purpose during a press roundtable at a Cisco partner event Tuesday, Network World reported. The investment in Insieme is US$100 million so far and will max out at $750 million.

Insieme is founded by Mario Mazzola, Luca Cafiero and Prem Jain -- the same executives who did previous spin-ins Andiamo and Nuova. A spin-in is a startup that's being nurtured for Cisco to acquire; outsiders think of it as an internal project with a much bigger payout promised.

Chambers has been saying that Cisco has a plan for SDN, a set of technologies that lets operators program routers and switches more flexibly. He emphasized Tuesday that Insieme's approach will include Cisco-designed ASICs as opposed to off-the-shelf chips, keeping consistent with Cisco's belief that chip design can be a key advantage for a high-end systems vendor.

The whole thing has come together very quickly. Sources have been telling Light Reading that Insieme (originally thought to end in an "i") wasn't even created until March. Word about the company leaked immediately after that.

Why this matters
It's almost a formality, but Cisco's attention makes it official that SDN is a big deal. Whether the technology radically changes the switch and router business, or just becomes an add-on feature, won't be determined for a few years. Exactly what Cisco is working on isn't known yet, though.

The spin-in thing has been a source of some controversy, because it means some Cisco employees will be working for normal salary while others are practically guaranteed the rewards of a startup buyout.

In any event, a spokesman told Light Reading Wednesday that Insieme's work will be blended with an overall architectural plan at Cisco. In other words, Insieme is going to be working with other parts of the company and isn't purely a maverick group.

For more
It's been a big week for SDN, thanks to the Open Networking Summit:

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:35:52 PM
re: Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan

Will this be OpenFlow or a ClosedFlow (Cisco specific) implementation? Remember SDN does not mean OpenFlow and OpenFlow has 'vendor extensions'...

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:35:51 PM
re: Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan

A few observations/questions:

1) Will OpenFlow have a life outside the data center?

2) How damaging could an open SDN technology be for Cisco's router revenues?

3) How damaging could a closed SDN technology be for Cisco's router revenues?

4) How damaging could an open Cisco SDN system be for Juniper?


Personally, I thionk Cisco knows it needs to embrace open SDN and just has to figure out the strategy that will do the least amount of damage. 

Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:35:51 PM
re: Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan

Correct, SDN doesn't imply OpenFlow. We don't know yet what path Cisco will take (it's possible they themselves haven't settled on one yet) but I would bet against OpenFlow here. Cisco could try something else that's not so heavily trodden by open-source-minded types.

Whatever Insieme's doing, they've reportedly hired like mad, staffing up very quickly.

User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 5:35:42 PM
re: Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan

Those of us in the industry with long memories will recall that Cisco is a grand master of the "embrace-extend-destroy" response to strategic threats.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out from that perspective.

I've come to see SDN as substitution competition for monolithic edge routers, and middle boxes like load balancers and firewalls in data center environments.  Perhaps also service provider BRAS, service routers and MSAPs.  In my view, it is more difficult to envision it scaling to the metro and core, from either a performance or value perspective. 

But then again, one could envision a squeeze play between SDN at the edge, and Packet Optical Transport at the metro and core that could seriously erode the role of routing in the network. 

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