Have you heard? It seems that Cisco is busy these days with an interesting new pursuit. It’s actively creating a few new startup companies by funding existing Cisco employees as well as permitting them to create brand new companies that will actually compete with Cisco’s own market share. I’m NOT kidding here, not at all!
Now I know this sounds a bit counterproductive, but just think about it for a minute… doing this not only allows Cisco to move more quickly into markets that would otherwise typically take a huge corporation like Cisco a good while to move on, it ensures the ability to keep tabs on new innovations in the industry. Yep, Big ‘ol Cisco gains the agility of a hare and can move in months instead of years on a new technological developments. Nice edge! BTW… These small companies are called “spin in’s” and Cisco’s new one called Insieme is an interesting one that is will eventually change the way we look at routing and switching forever. Of course, like the stock market, you can’t count on any guarantees, but this company sounds promising.
If you are familiar with Cisco Wireless Controllers and how they direct the flow of wireless frames through a network, then you’ll get the idea of what Insieme is all about. The engineers at this spin in are working on Software Defined Networking (SDN) which is part of a standard called OpenFlow. Essentially, this is just a networking protocol that directs packets through the Internet and defines, well, data flows. The actual routers, switches or other Internet devices are irrelevant and operating systems (like Cisco’s expensive IOS), which traditionally run on the proprietary hardware of Cisco, Juniper, etc., will actually no longer be actively involved in the routing of packets. Fundamentally and in theory, everything and all but the ports will be totally bypassed!
SDN is expected to be a cheap and efficient way to deploy cloud computing systems. To quote Cisco “The network is no longer a cost center, but it is central to revenue generation and strategy execution, [SDN] promises to make the network more agile, scalable, and cost-effective.”
Clearly this means that companies such as Cisco must either support OpenFlow in their new firmware or have a firmware upgrade for their devices or they’ll be toast, so you probably wondering why Cisco seems to be shooting themselves in the foot with this new company? Well, certainly, regarding Insieme, it appears they’re doing exactly that! However, concerning companies like Google who design, engineer and manufacture their own routers and switches, OpenFlow is a really wonderful gift. This is because SDN can and will only take off in the market if all major routing and switching companies support the standard. Cisco’s Insieme may actually only be used as a sort of “backup” in case OpenFlow really does take off and they need to support it, right?
We’ll just have to see how it all plays out, but I am betting that Cisco at least secretly hopes it doesn’t get into the club after all! I will say that if this new thang does get off the ground, ‘twill be a brave new world of networking indeed!