SAN JOSE, Calif. — With a suite of proprietary switches and software announced today, Cisco Systems hopes to get a leg up in what could be the most disruptive trend the networking giant has faced in years.
The push to software-defined networks aims to simplify the jobs of setting up and running large networks. The concept of SDN does that in part by cutting through a rat's nest of complex ASICs and APIs companies such as Cisco use, pushing jobs instead to apps written in high-level languages, often run on x86 servers.
Cisco aims to deliver much of the promise of SDN with its new products that include both high-level software and new ASICs. Insieme Networks, Cisco's third and potentially largest internally incubated startup to date, developed the new switches and software.
The networking giant could lavish as much as $863 million on Insieme if it meets undisclosed revenue targets. Cisco announced Wednesday it will acquire the portion of Insieme it does not already own after investing about $135 million to date on the novel spin-in startup.
Analysts praised the Insieme products for delivering some of the promises of SDN. However, the proprietary nature of the products could scare off some of its potential customers in large datacenters, they said.
"Its strength and weakness is its vertical integration," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at market watcher ZK Research in an interview with EE Times. "Cisco will get an early-mover advantage with features others don't have, but it will scare others away as vendor lock in."
Cisco took a similar path to market success with power-over-Ethernet.
"Everyone was waiting for PoE standards when Cisco rolled its own products and got a two-year advantage," Kerravala told us. "Historically, they've built out vertically oriented solutions, then when standards are ratified they adhere to them -- but they already have an installed base."
Andrew Lerner, a research director for network systems at market watcher Gartner, agrees.
"Overall, while it is a solid switching fabric that improves network agility, [the new products are] based on an architectural model that will limit long-term innovation," said Lerner in an email exchange.
The approach requires "customers to buy network switches to achieve networking agility whether they need new switches or not," he said. "It is a proprietary solution that locks you in -- you cannot add a non-Cisco switch into the fabric."