With Cisco absorbing Insieme, will their SDN efforts innovate or lag?

Announcement comes during both Cisco Partner Summit and Open Networking Summit

Cisco CEO John Chambers recently announced that Cisco would absorb Insieme with a $750 million cap. Insieme is a Cisco-funded start-up that has apparently been developing Cisco's version of a software-defined networking (SDN) system.

A recruiting letter, published on this site earlier in the month, touted that Insieme was "developing a very unique product involving open stack cloud computing and distributed data storage..."

Chambers all but confirmed this when he stated, "The end goal... is to have programmability, flexibility, starting with massively scalable data centers..."

Programmability speaks to SDN

It can easily be read into Chambers' statement that Cisco is preparing for a surge into SDN. To add to the speculation, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior said during an interview at the Cisco Partner Summit, "Certain customers want to experiment with OpenFlow and we'll support them with that. We don't believe it defines software-defined networking or programmability. It is one tool or one approach to do that."

That pretty much seals the deal that Cisco is preparing to make inroads into SDN, but two questions popped into my mind when I read this news.

Question #1: Coincidence they made this announcement during the Open Networking Summit?

Both Chambers and Warrior made their statements during their own company's Partner Summit, but it can't be overlooked that the Open Networking Summit was taking place simultaneously. This made for a convenient and quite appropriate time to start unveiling Insieme's mission.

It's certainly no secret that last fall's inaugural Open Networking Summit was a huge success, and was attended by web giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo. It shouldn't come as any surprise that Cisco would want to grab the attention of the attendees at this spring's sold out event.

Even if it wasn't a planned maneuver, it has to be considered a happy coincidence. Cisco showing web heavyweights that it understands their interest in, and desire for, SDN is a wise move.

Question #2: If you're still two years away, will you be too late?

The article that quotes Warrior also notes that Insieme's products "aren't expected for another two years, at least." Wow, does that ever feel like a long time! From the reading I've done, there are already innovative, ground-breaking ventures that have Cisco squarely in their sights. How much time can Cisco afford to lose as others gain ground?

Warrior says, "When somebody else is coming up with ideas, you drive innovation faster." I hope those words aren't just lip service. It's clear that SDN is gaining footing rapidly, and competitors with strong ideas are developing go-to market strategies designed to cut into Cisco's share. Cisco has always found themselves in others' cross-hairs, but this time it seems they're acknowledging that the SDN threat is real by beginning a $750 million foray into it. Will they be too late?

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.