Earlier this week, Cisco announced that they will be offering a disaggregated solution with their Cisco IOS XR and Nexus operating systems (1). It’s true, the same organization that claimed to have killed white-box networking is jumping on the bandwagon three years later.

Open networking is no longer just the future

It’s now a requirement in today’s innovative data centers. Cumulus was founded on the notion that the future of data center networking is disaggregation, that the industry should be open and that innovation will only prevail when open networking does. The fact that one more incumbent vendor has acknowledged this notion about where the industry is headed only validates our vision. The future of networking truly is here, and we welcome Cisco to the club — really!

In the last few years, and even last several months, we’ve seen open networking takeoff. From the moment we helped bring ONIE to the market back in 2013, we knew things were going to change in the industry. Since then, we’ve seen the list of participating hardware vendors grow like crazy and our customer base grow with them. We’ve seen web-scale companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and more contribute to the open source community to bring innovation and standardization to the market. The era of web-scale networking, with the proliferation of Linux at its core, is truly something businesses are excited about.

Things have grown so much that Gartner now states that “40 percent of global enterprises will have a web-scale networking initiative by 2020,” and they followed up by placing open networking leaders like us on their Magic Quadrant. Plus, we’ve continued to see other organizations join the movement with companies like Arista, Big Switch and more contributing to the open networking community with their own innovations. The fact that Cisco has joined the community and acknowledges the demands of web-scale networking is a huge win for the industry as a whole. We are truly thrilled.

What’s the Cumulus take on Cisco’s solution?

From our perspective, this is more of a marketing positioning change for Cisco. According to a piece in Network World:

“Certainly in the service provider world disaggregation has forced Cisco’s hand. Indeed the company said that over the past few years, software/hardware disaggregation has been gaining traction within the networking industry for a number of reasons including:

  • Hyperscale web providers are pushing for disaggregated solutions for their data centers.
  • Service providers have expressed their willingness to move towards disaggregated solutions.
  • Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) now sell hardware directly to customers.
    Niche vendors are selling software-only packages.”

Cisco has made this shift because of pressure from large service-provider and telecom customers. In other words, their largest customers have demanded a web-scale approach to networking, and so Cisco has changed their positioning to satisfy their biggest customers.

Plus, this new approach isn’t exactly open. They are allowing organizations to run their software on third-party, specific, specified hardware (not necessarily all open hardware) or run third-party software on Cisco hardware. It doesn’t come close to the the flexibility, efficiency and choice that true open networking brings you — where you can run any open software on any open hardware.

And what about the enterprise, private cloud data centers or campus deployments? So far, it doesn’t appear that the disaggregated option is available for them. Cisco’s margin structure is dependent on a vertically integrated stack, so we expect that to remain their core strategy even as they branch out into disaggregation. After all, Cisco recently raised their pricing as they moved to a subscription model in what can only look like a preparation for this shift. And for service providers, it’s currently unclear which hardware will support the new open OS.

So all in all, Cisco is dabbling with disaggregation in order to meet industry demands, but they haven’t made a substantial shift in their business strategy just yet. We hope they will, but at this juncture, we’re considering it a baby step.

How does this impact the open networking movement?

In short, it doesn’t. As always, we believe the best approach is for organizations to focus on how web-scale companies, like Facebook and Google, are designing their networks (and even their hardware) to build data centers that are efficient, scalable and affordable. Those same efficiencies can be leveraged at a smaller scale for enterprises of all sizes. And disaggregation is just one piece of the web-scale solution. These web-scale networks are software-driven, cost effective, easy to operate and built for automation — which is exactly what Cumulus offers and what we’ve always focused our efforts on: building better networks, always.

The industry has moved well beyond the disaggregation of hardware and software. At Cumulus, we’ve focused on creating openness, efficiency and standardization at every layer of the networking stack. Plus, we’re Linux. So customers not only can pick from dozens of available hardware platforms but can also run any standard Linux application natively. Things have come a long way since disaggregation.

When we worked on the ONIE project, when we launched Cumulus Networks, when we built our partnerships, the road to open networking was not yet paved. It fact it wasn’t even built yet. We designed a go-to-market model, sales channel strategy, technical support team and more on that dirt road. Then we widened it with the help of 70+ hardware platforms (magnitudes higher than our competitors, by the way) and a vibrant Linux community. And then we softened it with a procurement model that offers both a turnkey and disaggregated solution. 1000+ customers later, the road is paved, and we paved it. And as we welcome other vendors to join us on this journey, we also don’t take the journey lightly. A positioning adjustment won’t get you there; but years of dedication to the cause might.

We believe customers will continue to choose partners who are not beholden to a business based on expensive, proprietary gear. We believe customers will continue to move towards a web-scale model that incorporates not only the benefits of disaggregation, but also the benefits of a flexible, open architecture that’s built for the digital age.

If you’d like to learn more about the differences between Cisco and Cumulus, head to our how-to video series that compares command lines.

(1) https://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/new-portability-options-for-ciscos-data-center-networking