There’s a little secret inside the networking technology markets: The battle between Cisco, VMware, and a gaggle of startups to take leadership in the Software Defined Networking (SDN) has had the effect of slowing networking technology decisions as engineers and technology architects consider how to proceed with the next generation of technology.
In the old PC days, they called this Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), a reference to the marketing strategy used when big companies such as Microsoft announced a new product that stalled the market. It was effective, which may be why you keep hearing about it.
Last year’s big moves by Cisco were classic FUD moves. It acquired startup Insieme and announced its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), its own spin on Software Defined Networking (SDN). ACI is shipping behind schedule, of course, as Cisco said it would be delivered by June. It’s now supposed to be released by the end of the month. Let’s now call it a September release. This slow roll by Cisco, intentional or not, has resulted in the textook technology result: A classic “frozen” market as customers, analysts, and industry experts say that Cisco was largely successful in somewhat freezing the market.
“People are sitting on decisions,” one networking executive recently told me. “SDN is slowing the market down.”
“There are more competitors in the space and SDN is making it more confusing,” said somebody else in the SDN startup community.
These sources don’t want to be named because they work for startups taking on the big bad Cisco and the ferocious VMware. But how did we miss the fact that with all the SDN hype, the purchasing orders aren’t flowing as fast as we thought? Probably because not many people want to report it. The headlines aren’t sexy: “SDN Market Frozen.”
Who could blame the customers? You’re not going to risk your career making the biggest architectural decision in 10 years without real product to test. You want to see if this stuff works yet. And the marketing wars are designed to convince you of where things are going.
“There is a massive battle for mindshare.” Gigamon‘s Chief Strategy Officer, Shehzad Merchant told me this week. “A lot of customers are debating which direction or technology to adopt and how do they manage and monitor this new world of network virtualization, overlays and SDN.”
Shehzad points out that when VMware bought Nicira, pretty much the first SDN company, for $1.25B, in 2012, that was two years ago. The company was founded in 2007. That means that VMware, with Nicira, had a large head start on Cisco to the market.
Now here we are in 2014, and we are still told that SDN is a battle between giants Cisco and VMware, which have different approaches to the market. Clearly the battle isn’t over.
I think a lot more will happen before this story is done, and startups will have a bigger role to play. The SDN market, which promises to open up technology and disaggregate software functionality from the hardware, is still big threat to Cisco — which is why Cisco came up with ACI.
Should we blame Cisco for playing its FUD card? No. As we mentioned, VMware had plenty of opportunity, and it hasn’t yet “won.” Are we supposed to get excited about the idea that NSX now has $100 million in revenue? I can think of markets that ramped faster than that in four years.
It’s all about to change. Cisco’s entry into the market with it’s official product, ACI, should push things forward. The startups are also making progress, forging powerful partnerships and getting product into the channel in 2014.
Yes, indeed, it’s a big battle for mindshare. It’s the Ethernet switching market in 1994. Or the IP routing market in 1992. And Cisco knows how important both of those were.
Who’s going to emerge as the leader? These are the questions that are going to get answered in the next six months.