In his Cisco Live opening keynote this afternoon, he said Cisco’s entry into SDN will be similar to Cisco’s out-of-the-blue entry into servers with the Unified Computing System (UCS). From nowhere, Cisco shot up to be the No. 2 in the x86 blade server market.
“We can do the exact same thing versus merchant silicon and SDN,” Chambers said. “We will be the best implementer of SDN in the world. It will not only benefit Cisco; we will lead the industry.”
Of course, you’d expect him to talk big at Cisco’s own customer event, which this year has 25,000 in-person attendees. But Cisco’s stance against SDN was more defensive in previous years. I don’t recall hearing Chambers utter the phrase “SDN” until this month, and most other executives avoided it as well. (David Ward was a notable exception.) Now that Cisco thinks it can take a lead — now that SDN isn’t just a competitors’ weapon or a way for VMware to cut into the networking industry — Chambers is in love with the term.
Chambers supported his boasting with two arguments Cisco has made repeatedly over the years: ASICs and Cisco’s ability to think in architectures.
Both add up to a total cost of ownership 75 percent lower than that of bare-metal alternatives, Chambers claimed — although he made the point using an argument that’s come under fire. Competitors and some analysts say Cisco’s calculations use exaggerated prices for both Cisco gear and the competition’s — “outlier” assumptions, as J.P. Morgan analyst Rod Hall wrote in January.
Even discounting price, Chambers stressed that Cisco should have an advantage selling architectures — groups of products — as opposed to individual pieces of software. “Standalone products will be in trouble,” Chambers said. He was referring to SDN, but the “architectures” thing has been Cisco’s theme for all its major product categories.
In the case of SDN, the architecture would include the combination of switches and software that make up the Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI). And it will include security as well, as Cisco has been on a quest to lead that market (something Chambers proclaimed at Cisco Live 2013) and has declared the importance of tying security into the entire network.
Getting back to ASICs, Chambers’ put forth the usual argument: that ASICs, while expensive and slow to design, use less power than merchant chips and, because they’re tailor-made for the software, exhibit better performance. Use of ASICs also mean Cisco isn’t beholden to the product schedule of another company such as Broadcom. (He might have a point there; Broadcom’s Trident II switch chip was late to ship last year.)