Addressing the Edge Data Onslaught with Open White Box Switches and Advanced Access Network Automation
The digital transformation that nearly every enterprise is currently undergoing is putting tremendous pressure on edge networks, with companies struggling to keep up with rapid growth. In turn, this is forcing enterprises to make a fundamental choice: continue to invest with their incumbent switch/router vendors, at increasingly inflated prices, or investigate alternatives, including networks built with open, white/brite box switches, the current choice for all the webscale data center providers.
Cisco’s Very Big Conservation of Complexity Problem
Of all the tools in its ginormous account-control arsenal, Cisco holds solution “complexity” near and dear to its heart. Since its earliest days, Cisco has weaponized product complexity and applied it to pretty much everything from product design, to sales, and even to service and support. Examples abound, but let’s just take a peek into the product side first, and then look in on the origin story for the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) program, which has been so massively successful it’s now become a nice little earner for Cisco – generating about $150M to date – in and of itself. Before we start, it should be noted that complexity is – warning, BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious) ahead -- the last thing Cisco customers are actually looking for, if for no other reason that there simply aren’t enough top-flight network engineers in this life-cycle for them to hire at any price. Cisco, however -- very much the prisoner of its own business model -- purposefully soldiers on.
Days of Cisco Past (1989) – a New Hope
Having clearly reached that “Get Off My Lawn!” stage of a 30+ year career in networking, over the next couple of months I’ve decided to share some unfiltered “insider” observations about how Cisco turned from its late 80’s IBM-killer roots, with its well-earned reputation as the liberator of enterprise businesses around the world, to, well, IBM redux. Even separated by 30 years the parallels are obvious, but here they are: “Massive company owns the global enterprise networking market; sells its customers identical undifferentiated, proprietary solutions (with baked-in obsolescence); charges ever-increasing and often tear-inducing fees for software and maintenance; leaves customers desperate for an alternative.” In 1989-1990, Cisco, when it had about 100 or so employees, was that fresh alternative. Any customer/prospect technical question that came in was jumped on immediately, often to the chagrin of management, by multiple people in engineering and support offering opinions (competing at times) on exactly what action the customer should take, but it was all about listening to the customers and doing right by them – and it worked like a charm. This pervasive customer advocacy philosophy was critical to how Cisco persuaded large enterprises that firmly believed back in 1989 “you can never be fired for buying IBM” to, well, not buy from IBM anymore.