The last blog (Will Cisco’s Insieme Networks Acquisition Rain on VMware’s NSX Party? – Part 1) spoke about how Cisco’s network hardware market dominance is being threatened by a number of factors with the most prominent ones being SDN and VMware’s network virtualization solution called NSX. Let’s take a look at Cisco’s answer to these threats.
Today’s frenzy is about Cisco’s acquisition of its own spin-in startup Insieme Networks , which is billed as the company's answer to the combined market threats of commodity hardware, SDN-enabled legacy hardware and network virtualization from VMware in the form of NSX.
Insieme – SDN solution or SDN killer?
The Insieme answer named Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) is hardware based and application-centric, unlike VMware NSX that is software-centric, providing Cisco’s counter-argument to the NSX software-first approach. Cisco seems to be betting big that the Insieme technology not only marginalizes the irritant of SDN, but can keep NSX in check as well.
Interestingly the Nexus 9000 switch includes both custom silicon ASICs and commodity silicon. Open standards-ish support for limited SDN capabilities are provided like the separated data and control plane, OpenFlow, or even Cisco’s own onePK. That should help maintain the loyalty of admins who love Cisco and want SDN.
Cisco’s ultimate answer to SDN is called ACI with APIC. With custom silicon, the switch performs better and provides more features at the cost of incompatibility with open standards SDN. The advantage here could still be with Cisco. Cisco’s history of performance, scalability and its application-centric nature, where the network is made aware of the application demands rather than application behaving according to the network, may resonate with customers more than networks that are quick to set up and reconfigure.
Get Your Popcorn Ready
Networks exist to deliver application services and every network admin strives to provide the best performance at the lowest cost. With Cisco promoting ACI as a solution for application-aware networks, users may still see more value with ACI than with NSX. Cisco has also painted software-centric approaches like NSX as not scalable, providing limited multi-hypervisor support and an integrated security challenge. It is yet to be seen what troubleshooting and monitoring looks like on NSX.
It’s most likely that Cisco will continue down the middle path like it has done with the Nexus 9000, supporting both SDN and custom silicon but recommending users stick with single-vendor hardware if they’re concerned about scalability, performance and features that commodity SDN or NSX cannot provide. So, while ACI may not kill SDN or NSX, it may dampen VMware’s vision of market share conversion without ACI clouding the NSX landscape.