Cisco's OS War

6:15 PM -- When the Nexus 7000 came out, every competitor zoomed in on the same factor: Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) had to introduce a new operating system with the box.

Cisco already has multiple versions of its Internetwork Operating System (IOS) floating around its installed base. It had introduced another, IOS-XR, for the CRS-1 core router, and acquired SAN-OS by buying Andiamo. And here was yet another OS to juggle. (See Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future.)

Cisco has since fired some comebacks at its competitors, mainly Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). Speaking at the Cisco Partner Summit on Tuesday, Doug Gourlay, Cisco's senior director for data center products, responded to a question about operating systems:

The thing I find rather comical is, the companies saying, 'Cisco, you have another OS,' have at least five to eight of them to contend with, and I think they'll find that the opportunity that they would gain by consolidating those is certainly offset by the lack of feature velocity that they would be delivering.

Translation: It's not worth the time to make sure everything runs on the same OS. Gourlay followed that up with:

Any M&A strategy immediately says you have yet another operating system to deal with.

That's great, but Cisco built the Nexus 7000 by itself, and officials say they knew from square one that they'd have to build it with a new OS. It's not an acquisition story, regardless of the Nuova deal.

Moreover, Juniper agrees with Gourlay's points. That's why the ERX series and the Netscreen boxes have maintained their respective operating systems, without a goal of unifying them all.

Go back to the beginning: The dig against Cisco has always been that that it's taken one operating system and splintered it into dozens of versions. Prodding Cisco for NX-OS might be unfair, then -- but so is a comparison between Cisco's and Juniper's multiple OSs. Junos, the Juniper equivalent to IOS, still comes in a single flavor that's updated on a strict schedule.

Then, of course, you've got Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). The former TiMetra, now AlcaLu's IP division, has only built one box and keeps adding to or subtracting from it. So by definition, it's really got only one OS.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:43:45 PM
re: Cisco's OS War Looks like Cisco is trying this in spots; the new ISR modules run on "cisco-hardended" Linux. (Cisco's phrase, not mine.)

More generally, I should have noted: in December, Alan Baratz mentioned Cisco is working to "compartmentalize" IOS and move it to a Unix environment. Cisco wouldn't tell me details back then, but it sounds like a way to merge IOS into one modular entity (or fewer entities, anyway) that can have multiple flavors/appearances. Although I'd love to hear other interpretations.
Sisyphus 12/5/2012 | 3:43:45 PM
re: Cisco's OS War ...Linux. Hardened.

The paradoz is that all these networking OS has limitations as well, OS. Didn't both IOS and JUNOS start off with some off the shelf embedded OS that didn't offer all that much of a robust functionality, and from there go on one patch after the other?

They have noth come a long way, but they're still behind a true OS.

The answer is easy, and by talking to their software guys one finds out they're closer to it than their marketing literature shows: run hardened Linux as the OS, run the legacy IOS and JUNOS as applications on it, and henceforth develop network features increasingly in a service oriented way on top of a robust, hardened Linux kernel.

Go do it already. As an OS, both Junos and IOS are crap. As a collection of advanced network functionality, both are rich - and that is their value. Not as an OS. In my opinion.
azacubane 12/5/2012 | 3:43:44 PM
re: Cisco's OS War First, to correct some misinformation here... IOS has no "kernel". It was written on top of a bare machine in about 1983 as a very simple task dispatcher and has grown since. JunOS is actually based on BSD, which is a thoroughly respectable operating system in its own right.

In fact there was a time, c. 1999 say, when IOS really was just one operating system, a common code base that, yes, did run on everything from the 800 to the GSR. Of course there was a huge amount of platform-specific code, especially for complex platforms like the 6500 and the GSR, but all of the code that didn't depend on the platform - like all the routing and such protocols - was completely common.

The acquisition spree made that all a lot more complicated, because each one came with its own choice of OS or microkernel, its own protocol stack, its own CLI, its own element manager (which is a whole nother can of worms). For example the security appliances run their own software, no relation to IOS.

And then Cisco decided, for reasons that certainly have more to do with politics than anything else, to move away from having a single IOS even on the core router/switch platforms. Both IOS-XR and the new system for the new switch (I forget what it's called) have absolutely nothing in common with IOS except the name. (On XR, even the CLI is different).

The huge advantage for Cisco of the old one-size-really-does-fit-all IOS was that most things only had to be implemented once. A new protocol comes along, or yet another tweak to BGP, you code it once, it runs everywhere. They have pretty much abandoned that now. Good news for network developers wanting jobs, mildly bad news for Cisco's bottom line, definitely bad news for customers expecting consistency across the Cisco product range.
-0 12/5/2012 | 3:43:44 PM
re: Cisco's OS War 'The one OS' buzz is pure marketing nonsense, almost as much so as double bandwidth accounting. The funny thing here is that Cisco trumpeted 'one OS' throughout the 90's and now their marketing buzz is backfiring at them.

To start with, what exactly do you understand by 'OS'? I am sure my definition of 'OS' is not the same as yours. OS is an environment for useful tasks to run. OS is memory and process management, bootloader and crap like that. OS must be transparent to end user. No, good OS should be INVISIBLE to the end user.
Things like BGP (which end user sees) and packet forwarding driver (which user doesn't see but feels its presence) are applications and have nothing to do with 'OS war'.

If Cisco replaces IOS kernel with Linux kernel but keeps the same BGP - it's fine with me.

Average end user cares about - surprise, surprise - 'end user experience'. On the surface this is about management interface similarity. That is, if CLI is similarly looking then difference in OS won't bother many.

'One OS' is important first of all to vendor itself to cut down expenses. If you have two close devices (say, M120 and M320) then developing for them two different OSes would be last degree of insanity. On the other hand, if you take devices like Cisco's ASA (small firewall) and CRS (big router) then you what, you REALLY expect them to run single code??? What do they have in common? CLI, may be. Can't see what else they can share.
I am sure at one point for vendor it becomes economically more interesting to develop and maintain several independent OSes than to try run single OS over the whole zoo of devices.
I personally even prefer to have different OSes on small and big devices. At least I can be sure that implementation was tailored to be run on this device.
bollocks187 12/5/2012 | 3:43:43 PM
re: Cisco's OS War Cisco is just catching up with the rest of the industry by moving to a hardened UNIX model.

The days of IOS are over.Just wish the same could be said of the Microsoft software crap ;-)

techseer 12/5/2012 | 3:43:37 PM
re: Cisco's OS War Cisco already has/had Linux running on their platform from the Ayr Networks acquisition. Am sure there are business and political reasons they chose not to deliver this to the market.
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:43:28 PM
re: Cisco's OS War As buyers learn about these new OSs in their gear, is there any chance of a sales slump as they certify the new code? The CRS took about 2 years to take off on software concerns. While this should not be as significant in any way, does such a danger exist at all?
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