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Cisco has this SDN thing covered

Opportunity in automated IT provisioning vs. threat of cheap hardware; Threat will be from SDN competition, IT administration

Who says SDNs threaten Cisco? It may be another market transition that Cisco embraces as an opportunity and growth engine.

We expect most of the company's vast installed base will likely opt to stay put with the incumbent for programmable networking rather than disrupt their investments. And whatever proprietary content is in the new Nexus 9000 and Application Centric Infrastructure product line will be accepted and deployed by an installed base already comfortable and familiar with Cisco-unique technology that they could implement well before any standards-based solutions were available.

So says industry analyst Zeus Kerravala, principal of ZK Research, in this post on Seeking Alpha. Kerravala's main point in the post is that most of the cost associated with IT is operational personnel, so any capital cost savings introduced by commodity hardware and open source software will likely be offset by people needed to integrate all of the piece parts together to build a system that automates the provisioning of server, networking, application, storage and security IT resources.

[STATUS REPORT: Where we stand with SDN]

And that, he says, is what IT really wants: automated, easy-to-manage provisioning, like that targeted by Cisco ACI and Nexus 9000, rather than low cost hardware and/or software. He offers a compelling argument for why SDNs will not be the threat to Cisco they are touted to be, but an opportunity.

Perhaps. But while SDNs in and of themselves may not be a threat, other companies offering them most certainly are.

SDNs may usher in some commodity whitebox switching turnover, but some big data center virtualization competitors - like VMware - are counting on physical Cisco networks to remain intact as IT shops broaden virtualization from the server to the network itself. VMware is offering its NSX network virtualization platform with that in mind: to extend the fluidity and flexibility of server virtualization and VM workload resource efficiency to the entrenched physical network without replacing that network. Keep the existing physical network but make it easily adaptable and accommodating to the mobile workload.

And then there's the issue of who in the data center or IT shop actually owns the virtual infrastructure. Server administrators have been steeped in virtualization for many years. Would they then be likely to take on administration of the virtual network? Or would network administrators, with decades of knowledge and experience in allocating physical network resources, now also learn and assume the added role of allocating virtual network resources to those mobile and dynamic workloads?

If the server guys end up owning network virtualization as well, VMware's NSX may block out Nexus 9000 and ACI from having any material impact on the physical and virtual Cisco network infrastructure. If the network guys end up owning the virtual as well as physical network, Cisco wins.

So to Kerravala's point, automated provisioning will reduce people costs on one vector, but so too will consolidating two or more administrative tasks.

So the SDN impact on Cisco, VMware and everyone else may not come down to whitebox vs. vanity, or proprietary vs. standard networking at all. It may come down to an operational and organizational personnel decision. 

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