SDN proposes that much of the dedicated hardware that today controls the Internet (e.g. routers) can be virtualized – turned into software running on commodity server hardware. The two proposed advantages are better: centralized control and lower costs. If this happens, then much of Cisco's traditional router marketplace is at risk, as described Patrick Moorhead’s article, “Cisco’s Challenge to Remain Relevant in SDN”
Cisco appears to be pinning its hopes on a technology called Cisco ONE, where ONE stands for “Open Network Environment:”
Cisco ONE is a very broad strategy that encompasses a wide range of networking functions. Obviously they are staking their claim in SDN and trying to not fall into the same mistakes that they have made in the past of leaving areas of value uncovered that allowed companies like F5 or Riverbed to carve out a niche for themselves.
As Cisco tries to bring this strategy together, they have a huge challenge ahead of them. With 3 different operating systems (IOS, IOS-XR and NX-OS) that are all differing technologies that have different release cycle cadences, the software that Cisco is eyeing to bring to the market will need to comprehend all of these and somehow tie the release cycles together ...
So the strategy seems to be that Cisco will modify its existing product line to allow centralized control, keeping its products relevant as seismic shifts occur in the mindset of data center managers. It could be that the stability, familiarity and installed base of Cisco hardware keeps Cisco relevant, at least in the short term.
Even so, investors seem to be paying attention to the threat of SDN to Cisco, as described here:
But the article's conclusion is upbeat:
Threats come and go. Most don't live up to the hype. And when certain disruptive networking technologies actually take off (example: Switched Ethernet), Cisco is typically ready with market solutions.
So when Cisco announces earnings, listen closely for new clues about the company's SDN strategy. The company will surely be in the game ...