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IBM's top network exec rips Cisco's rip and replace

By and , Network World
February 13, 2012 04:00 PM ET
Vikram Mehta

Network World - IBM reversed course on networking in 2010 when it acquired Blade Network Technologies, one of its key network suppliers. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix and Managing Editor Jim Duffy recently caught up with Vikram Mehta, founder of BNT and now vice president of IBM System Networking, for an update on IBM's network visions going forward.

IBM divested its network operations more than decade ago, so why did it decide it had to get back into the business?

IBM divested its network business in 1999 and acquired BNT in 2010, so interesting question. As enterprises have increased their reliance on IT to run their business the amount of infrastructure has gone through the roof. And what customers have come to realize is that, given the scale and the pace at which they need to deploy infrastructure, the old model of build your own using best of breed servers, best of breed storage and best of breed networking, just became untenable.

They said look, our core business is insurance or banking or running an airline or what have you, we need credible technology suppliers to put the entire solution together. IBM has a tremendous brand in servers, a tremendous brand in storage, but increasingly customers look at these systems as a combination of hardware, software and services and IBM was missing one key component which was networking so it was incredibly important for IBM to have a strong point of view on that.

Now you might say hey, IBM Global Technology Services sells a lot of Cisco and a lot of Brocade and other stuff, why not just carry on with that? Well, as things like virtualization take hold and the need to scale out the infrastructure grows, the fabric that connects servers to servers and servers to storage is a strategic point of differentiation and for IBM to just merely resell other people's technology and not be able to innovate in that area would have been an issue. It was incredibly important for IBM to own some strategic control point within the networking piece.

Now our strategy from a networking perspective is different than some of the other players. We're not doing backhaul networking. We're not doing the LAN. We're not doing wireless networking. We are really building differentiated IP when it comes to connecting servers to other servers, servers to print, and storage to other storage, so that's where our pieces are concentrated. And we still maintain good partnerships with the likes of Brocade, Cisco and Juniper for all those network things we don't build.

ANALYSIS: Implications of the IBM/Blade deal to Cisco

Frankly it seems like a clear endorsement of what Cisco has been saying all along with its Unified Computing System, that the fabric is core to these new bladed architectures. You're agreeing with that then?

What we are endorsing are two things. First, full compliance to standards and interoperability without compromise. And second, avoiding rip and replace. Now, when we look at several other vendor offerings in the market, they fall short on both of these measures, and we think this is bad for customers.

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