Will Cisco enjoy the fruits of its ACI launch in 2014?

2013 has certainly been an interesting year for the SDN market. It was chock full of announcements from vendors outlining their SDN vision and roadmap. Probably the biggest and most anticipated announcement came from the current network market leader, Cisco.

The ACI launch witnessed Cisco change the focus of the SDN conversation to the application, and more specifically how to best provide services based on each application’s needs. This could extend to compute and storage resources as well.

Certainly Cisco has a lot going for it with respect to new network architectures. It has been the dominate network provider and has a very large and very loyal installed base. Now these organizations have a clear roadmap to a Cisco powered SDN (or ACI) solution. Given Cisco’s past successes with spin-in technology (most recently Nuovo- Nexus and UCS), it wouldn’t be a surprise if most customers are content to wait until learning more about ACI before committing to an SDN strategy. ESG research on the subject indicates only 27% of respondents have committed to a SDN strategy started testing, and another 63% are still investigating.

All that said, it’s not like this will be a layup for Cisco -- the competition for SDN mind and wallet share will be fierce as there is now a lot more competition and not all of them are your usual suspects. Consider:

  • Vendors targeting network solutions at “non-network” buyers. Instead they focus on the virtualization team. You probably already guessed this would be led by the server virtualization companies and the gang of new network virtualization vendors. Think about VMware and Microsoft leveraging its installed based to leverage overlay technology. Not to mention the rapid growth of other companies that announced network virtualization solutions like CPLANE, IBM, Midokura, Netsocket, Nuage, and PLUMgrid (winner of best SDN solution at VMworld).
  • Innovative startups trying to disrupt the status quo. Companies like Cumulus, Pluribus, Pica8 come to mind that are taking full advantage of whitebox network technology and building out innovative network operating systems that can run independent of the underlying hardware. Others like Plexxi (actually uses concept of application affinity, which is most closely aligned to ACI) and Vello are bringing programmability to optical technologies. BigSwitch announced it will be marketing its own bare-metal switches and software.
  • Traditional network competitors could pose a formidable challenge as well. This would be Arista, Brocade, Dell, Extreme (Enterasys), HP, and Juniper. While these might be considered the usual suspects, they all recognize the opportunity that SDN has put before them and are aggressively pursuing their own SDN vision and roadmap. These vendors are hard at work developing open solutions and building their ecosystem of partners. Some like HP have even built out a Network App Store.

With all these dynamics in play, 2014 is certainly shaping up to be another interesting year for SDN and networking in general. If I were more creative, I would have come up with some pithy questions like they used to ask at the end of the old Batman TV series, unfortunately all I remember is, tune in next year to find out! Bam*&! Pow!#%