The buzz in some circles is that SDN has the potential to eradicate Cisco's router franchise. Cisco insists that SDN and OpenFlow are not causes for concern, and yet it's given customers and investors (and the media) all these months to stew over it.
The reason, Cisco officials tell me, is because the topic is going to be complicated. Cisco doesn't see SDN as a simplifying force. SDN is "going to make the role of the router more prominent and the network more elaborate," opening up ways to monitor and control the entire network stack, says Ayman Sayed, Cisco's head of network operating systems.
The company has been hinting at this. We've posted Dave Ward's talk previously; the three-circle slide he presented at the Open Networking Forum has become the symbol for Cisco's SDN vision.
There's also the limited appeal of SDN. Yes, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) uses it. Yes, the University of Indiana -- where Chief Network Architect Matt Davy is an SDN evangelist -- has a lot in common with service-provider networks. But Cisco makes money from enterprises, and most of them have "no plans for adoption in the next five to seven years," says Shashi Kiran, a senior director of market management at Cisco.
In that sense, there's no hurry.
SDN is also multifaceted. Cisco is working with data centers and enterprises on projects related to SDN, and the two groups' requirements aren't always going to match, Sayed says.
It really seems Cisco got taken by surprise by how quickly SDN interest has grown. Cisco has known about OpenFlow since its earliest days, but most of the work has been experimental. With SDN suddenly capturing imaginations, Cisco had to move quickly, first hiring Ward in December as a CTO in the service provider area, then launching the Insieme spin-in.
So, another reason for Cisco's caution is the paparazzi effect. Cisco doesn't want to "over-rotate on something that is still experimental" and get accused of making up "SDN-washing" excuses, Kiran says.
But the central factor is that Cisco wants to set its own terms for the SDN discussion. SDN often gets described as a black plague for routers. Cisco wants to talk about it as an augmentation to the standing network, playing off Cisco's obvious position of strength.
Most enterprises will probably side with Cisco on that one, so in that sense, it's not so radical a bet. I have a feeling data centers, cloud operators and service providers might have a different view, though. The Cisco plan should get unveiled June 12 or 13, so the wait is almost over.
More about SDN and Cisco's plans:
- OpenFlow, SDN & an Industry Uprising
- Cisco Broadens Its Software-Defined Networking
- Cisco Links SDN & Policy
- Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan
— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading