Cisco vs. VMware highlights divide in SDN thinking

Cisco CEO John Chambers indicated the company is staking out a beachhead in software-defined networking (SDN), predicting his company will come to dominate the nascent category.


"We will be the best implementer of SDN in the world. It will not only benefit Cisco; we will lead the industry," said Chambers, whose remarks from his opening keynote at the Cisco Live event this week were reported by SDNCentral.

Chambers said Cisco can lead the SDN market because it is taking a whole-architecture view of the SDN market rather than selling individual pieces. Its proprietary combination of switches, software and security make up Cisco's hardware-centric Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which the company announced almost one year ago.

Repeating a long-standing product positioning message from Cisco, Chambers said another strength that will play into the vendor's envisioned SDN dominance is that it does not rely upon merchant-silicon for its products and uses ASICs instead.

Cisco's approach to SDN and data center orchestration differs starkly from that of competitor VMware. Cisco's non-abstraction approach, not surprisingly, is focused on its long-time core competency around selling hardware. VMware NSX's network virtualization platform with an Ethernet fabric, on the other hand, represents an abstraction approach with software overlay.

"It's clear we have two giants not so much fighting for revenue, because there is not much overlap here. One sells hardware and one sells software. The fight here is for influence. If you choose to be strategically aligned with VMware or Cisco ACI, ultimately that's going to lessen the influence of the other player," Mark Fabbi, vice president and lead author of Gartner's Data Center Networking Magic Quadrant, told SDNSearch.

The blurring demarcation between vendors is causing market confusion for data center buyers in all verticals, including telecom operators and others.

Brandon Mangold, network architect for United Airlines, told SearchSDN: "In the traditional environment, you have influencers in silos--Cisco predominant in networking, EMC for storage, VMware for virtualization, and maybe IBM for services and HP or someone else for servers. Now, all of a sudden, those lines are blurring, especially with Cisco and VMware, who are very dominant in their respective areas."

Though the ongoing VMware-Cisco SDN struggle will keep buyers in a "heightened state of confusion" until there is a clear winner, Fabbi said the ongoing debate is beneficial. "Every time we get healthy debate on architectural approaches and ways of doing things better, it's good for the industry. In the short term, it creates a bit of confusion."

 For more:
- see this SDNCentral article
- see this SearchSDN article and this article

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