Cisco announced its intention to buy AppDynamics, an application performance management vendor. Much of the attention has been focused on the last minute deal while AppDynamics was performing a roadshow for its IPO, or the price being paid.
What is more interesting for the IT community is why Cisco finds this a good fit for its product portfolio. Although they will be a business unit within Cisco’s IoT and Collaboration Technology Group, it’s more important to see the context in which Cisco is transforming itself. My colleague Edwin Yuen wrote a blog on the deal as well.
The key issue is that applications are defining the choices of infrastructure. Whereas in the past, IT managers were beholden to the constraints of the infrastructure on which applications and system software were deployed. Now, with advances in infrastructure technology ranging from cloud computing software and distributed software frameworks, those constraints are beginning to be erased. Instead, the applications are free to dictate the environment in which it runs, and the infrastructure needs to reform itself to meet those needs.
An infrastructure company like Cisco, which provides networking, servers and security software, is realizing that its mission is no longer simply transmitting packets, offering compute units, and blocking network traffic. This is an oversimplification, but at the core, that’s what traditional infrastructure aimed to provide.
Looking at recent developments from Cisco, applications have taken a higher profile.
- Connectivity: Its focus on ACI, or Application Centric Infrastructure within data center networking, and Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) for enterprise networking directly respect the need to coordinate infrastructure resources with application needs.
- Analysis: Monitoring and analytics products such as Tetration meet the needs to monitor and understand application behavior on network devices and on software stacks.
- Securing infrastructure: Its security products, which now encompass offerings beyond next-generation firewalls or intrusion protection systems, are increasingly app-aware.
Therefore, it’s good to look at this acquisition not as a simple addition to a product portfolio to acquire customers or gain a revenue stream in the same sense as conglomerates have done in the past.
Having a product like AppDynamics allows Cisco to have a foothold into the mind and workflow of the developers. They have been taking steps in that direction in the past – ranging from services like DevNet, its numerous open source projects, to DevOps capabilities baked into networking products.
While I don’t expect to see AppDynamics influence the entire Cisco portfolio overnight, it is a strong indicator that Cisco wants to have strong influence up the infrastructure stack into the application development area.
While it has retreated from its Intercloud strategy, it does not mean that it is in any way retreating from cloud computing. Strategies for placing a controller for infrastructure components in the cloud are in place. Cloud technologies are firmly supporting much of their product line such as with their Meraki Wi-Fi line.
Once elements for software-controlled and monitored infrastructure are in place, the next step is to work closely with the application developers (whether custom-written or via ISVs) to make them work in harmony.
This approach certainly is needed in hybrid or on-premises cloud infrastructure environments, and is also relevant to applications in the public cloud, since end-users (or other software) need to traverse the network to access cloud resources, such as SaaS.
Cisco is not alone in this. Networking firms also have strong ties into application performance monitoring, like Riverbed via its SteelCentral product. It can also be argued that loadbalancer firms like Citrix and F5 are very much tied into the world of applications, since they create application delivery controllers and other network products that interact with high levels of the networking stack.
We’ll keep an eye out on this development, which promises to be far-reaching.