November 30, 2012
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) still insists it's got an "open" strategy for software-defined networking (SDN) and that the Cariden Technologies Inc. acquisition will only strengthen it.
That statement might make competitors choke on their coffee, given that Cariden's sofware -- used for evaluating and planning IP/MPLS networks -- just fell into enemy hands. Cisco announced Thursday that it's buying Cariden for roughly US$141 million. (See Cisco to Spend $141M for More SDN Help.)
Service providers use Cariden's network planning tool, called MATE, to see what's going on inside a variety of vendors' equipment -- Cisco, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and others.
Cisco claims it's going to keep it that way.
"It is our express intent to leave it multivendor," says Shailesh Shukla, vice president of the newly created service-provider software and applications group (i.e., the new boss of Cariden). "You know that service provider networks are multivendor, so it's important for any software platform that's involved in the network planning to be multivendor."
As for the "open" part, Cisco plans to standardize Cariden interfaces by creating the appropriate extensions to standards such as GMPLS and RSVP. "There's nothing inherently proprietary about any of those interfaces," says Kishore Seshadri, a Cisco director of product management.
Even so, it sounds awkward for Cisco to own a tool that's meant to peek into, say, Juniper equipment. It's one thing for a smaller player like Cyan Inc. to be able to do that. Cisco is a bigger name with a stigma of world domination and Godzilla-sized footprints.
"Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent were using Cariden. If I were them, I'd be a little bit worried," says Eve Griliches, an analyst with ACG Research .
Cisco counters by pointing out that it's already embracing a multivendor world, one where customers use (gasp!) other companies' gear. Prime, Cisco's own network management suite, has had multivendor support for a year and a half, Shukla says.
"We have real deployments of customers where Prime is managing other vendors' equipment" he says. "So the multivendor piece is not an inherent conflict," he says.
One might also ask -- as Greg Ferro of the Packet Pushers podcast did -- whether Cariden is overlapping what Insieme Networks Inc. is supposed to be doing. Insieme is Cisco's spin-in that's been described as an SDN startup.
Cisco describes the division this way: Cariden is specifically for service providers, whereas Insieme is more about the data center.
"What service provider customers are asking for is not what we're hearing on the data-center side," where much of the buzz is about the potential for new networks built on commodity switches, Seshadri says. "What they [the service providers] seem to be looking for is more of an incremental approach."
That incremental approach has become popular in SDN circles, especially when talks of service-provider networks come up. It's obvious -- telcos won't rip up networks for SDN's sake -- but it's got some implications that equipment vendors might not love. Namely, it implies SDN will have to tailor to multivendor networks and probably support multiple types of controllers.
Regardless of what Cisco actually does with it, Cariden is going to fill a gap. Cisco sees Cariden's software being merged with nLight, the control-plane technology announced in October for provisioning the IP and optical layers together. The result, in theory, is a way to provision network paths by picking optimal combinations of IP and optical connections. (See Cisco's Core Router Gets Optical Genes.)
"Cisco really didn't have the orchestration part, and they really needed it," Griliches says. "They are definitely more focused on adding value in the software space. I think people don't give Cisco enough credit in the sense that they're handling the market changes in that space.
"My question is: Why isn't Cariden going to be integrated with Prime, the Cisco network managment system? It could be that it's just too early," she adds.
There's also the fact that Cariden has an IP/MPLS heritage but falls short on the optical side. Cariden had already been working on IP-plus-optical management, Shukla claims, but Griliches has her doubts about how much optical experience Cariden has amassed.
"I don't think Cariden has a lot of time working on the optical side of things. They're talking about IP-and-optical and multilayer optimization. Cariden says they've been working on this for a year, but given all their clients, I don't know how much they've done," Griliches says.
— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading
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