SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After decades building a business on high-performance proprietary networking equipment, Cisco foresees a future where it can coexist with white boxes and open source technology, CEO Charles Robbins said Monday during a media briefing.
Network operators are driven to white boxes by a desire to simplify operations, rather than by attraction to the equipment itself and the prospect of reducing capex. They want to "manage the infrastructure in an operationally efficient way," Robbins said, speaking at a gathering of worldwide tech and business journalists today. Simplifying operations is a goal that's quite compatible with Cisco's future direction, he said.
"We see some very unique cases and frankly we are supporting and working with these customers where it makes sense," Robbins said. "We do not have religion on how this plays out."
While white boxes will have a place, network operators require security and real-time analytics, which require high-performance hardware. "We think there will be different use cases throughout the customer infrastructure. We don't think it will be one use case," Robbins said.
Cisco's "rich" networking software might run on x86 equipment in some cases, and on ASICs in other cases, Robbins said.
"We're going to actively curate a highly engineered specialty set of ASICs with applications on top. But we're also going to embrace open," stated Cisco CTO Zorawar 'Biri' Singh.
And whether the hardware is white box or ASIC-based, it will be open, both in the northbound and southbound direction, to integrate other vendors' security devices, Robbins said.
However, network operators implementing heterogeneous networks risk "lack of discipline" in packaging and programing services leading to greater management complexity. Network operators don't want to spend a lot of time integrating technology, Singh said.
Big, established networking vendors, which have built their business on proprietary hardware, are now contending with the emergence of white box hardware, open interfaces and open source as network operators transition to the New IP economy.
During an exclusive video interview with Light Reading in March this year, Cisco's previous CEO, John Chambers (whom Robbins succeeded in late July), identified white boxes as Cisco's biggest threat, so these latest statements signal a significant shift in attitude. (See Think Outside the White Box, Robbins Succeeds Chambers as Cisco Changes CEOs, and How Cisco Will Compete Against White Box Switches.)
As for Cisco's competitors: