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Cisco Partner Summit: Partners positive about Cisco SDN strategy

Michelle McNickle

At the Cisco Partner Summit this week in Boston, CEO John Chambers admitted the company was late to respond to the call of SDN, but partners expressed faith in the Cisco SDN strategy and are looking to hear more from the company on network programmability. 

"With the speed of change, there will be challenges," Chambers said during his keynote at the summit. "We always have to build flexibility and agility into our business models. We will also have new concepts coming in, like software-defined networking -- which, in hindsight, we were slow to respond to."

Chambers' comments come on the heels of a conference call with Wall Street analysts last month, where he said a number of SDN companies would likely fail. "History is littered with companies big and small, upstarts and established, that bet against Cisco and failed," he said. He later added, "We're already onto our next challenge beyond SDN."

Cisco's shifting SDN sentimentshaven't dissuaded partners, however. "I think it's great to realize that they are a come-out leader in the space," said Jason Edelman, senior solutions architect at a large Cisco partner. "They may have been slow out of the gate, but I don't think it's going to have an impact long-term. … It's never slowed them down, and they play catch-up with acquisitions or heavy investments."

Meanwhile, Robin Bell, chief technology officer at Long View Systems, a cloud provider and Cisco partner, called Chambers' quote "humble." "We're looking at [SDN] because we see the need. … Cisco probably sees itself as being behind, but you have to do it right and jump in with both feet," he said.

Chris Black, vice president of engineering and innovation at World Wide Technologies, a large Cisco North American partner, said he believes Cisco has been in the forefront of market changes. "If you look at what they've done with their Cisco ONE strategy and their philosophy, they've been abreast of the market," he said. "They've been making changes to their product features; they have a plan and a strategy."

Even if Cisco has been slow to market with a SDN product, Larry Van Deusen, director of network integration at Dimension Data, said the company has been extremely active in driving SDN innovation and standards. "We see them as transformational. Cisco's leadership position, and working with VMware, Juniper, the OpenDaylight community…[they're] driving community and developers who help drive use cases in terms of modifying architectures and platforms to support extensions and programmability for SDN."

What partners want next from the Cisco SDN strategy

Praise for Cisco's SDN strategy thus far also comes with partners' expectations going forward after this week's conference. Partners said they weren't expecting major announcements regarding SDN at the summit, but many are looking forward to Cisco's plans for the future. "[We] want to see how Cisco's going to embrace this newer technology and what direction Cisco is going to take with it as far as core fundamentals," said Ryan Ticer, lead Cisco engineer at Special Order Systems. Ticer wants to know specifically how Cisco is going to reinvest in its current portfolio devices and software for SDN.

More on Cisco SDN and programmability

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Cisco plans to double software business with SDN

Van Deusen said he and his team are hoping to hear about the progress of spin-in Insieme Networks, along with more information about OpenDaylight. "It's not just a Cisco-based focus, even though that's significant," he said. "Cisco takes that open space and creates a platform for a multi-vendor approach -- [then] they [can] drive that back into the consortium, which comes to market with something that's more robust."

Cisco partner Edelman wants to learn more about specialized partner strategy, incentive, and training programs that will enable him and his team to sell SDN technology. "Some skill sets may be different for network virtualization or figuring a controller," he said. "I'm hoping to hear more concrete ways of enabling us to be leaders in the SDN space." As many partners said, he added that overall, Cisco is going to play a large part in customers' realizing the benefits of SDN. "It's going to be a gradual adoption, as opposed to a change in technology and a change of vendor," he said. "Cisco plays a large part in providing guidance -- how they can realize benefits not just short-term but long-term as well."

But, warns Longview's Bell, the timing of the SDN transition is still up in the air. "People have inflated expectations, where whatever's being talked about will solve world hunger," he said. The time between discovering a new technology and gaining value from it is called the "time value gap." Predicting that is tough, he added, "but making the investment at the right time is key. So, if Cisco had [SDN] six months ago, would we be ready to deploy it in our environment? Probably not. Whether or not they have it, it's if we can get it up and running, and if it provides value."

World Wide's Black agrees that the market is immature but predicts that Cisco will be releasing disruptive technologies within the next 12 to 18 months. "I hear a lot of talk, but no one delivering anything," he said. "[Cisco] is smart in their approach. The next thing you're going to see is going to be disruptive and in line with their philosophy of SDN … things that are going to be disruptive, as far as their competitors go."


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