Is Cisco Going Soft?

With Cisco due to announce its business strategy this month, Mitch Wagner at LightReading speculates that a radical shift to software is on the cards. How can a traditional box-shifter like Cisco achieve such a transformation?

In an excellent bit of analysis, Mitch Wagner asserts that 2015 may well be the year that sees Cisco start the transition from a hardware to software company. This is a trend among the IP vendor industry where big, expensive, proprietary routers and switches are set to be displaced by commodity hardware and centralised management by emerging NFV and SDN standards.

Mitch adds:

What’s notable, though, is that Cisco appears to be ready to make software and cloud the main focus and not just a strategic focus.

Can it be done?

Cisco has been acquiring the assets to allow them to deliver software, cloud and virtualization based solutions. In the OSS niche, this has included companies like Cariden, with their network planning and sort-of-SDN capabilities, and Tail-F network management. That’s on top of their old-school inventory-centric OSS suite from when they picked-up the Axioss products while acquiring bits of Comptel in 2011.

Nonetheless, getting these software assets working together and fully integrated with Cisco’s hardware range is not a trivial task. Cisco hasn’t exactly announced a great deal of OSS product development since acquiring each company, leaving one to wonder whether the necessary integration work has been taking place.

Take a look at the Cisco blog, and search for OSS. It pops up with a mention in a couple of 2013/2014 articles, in relation to enabling SDN/NFV. But in terms of innovating OSS and taking it forward to meet those operational challenges? Not so much.

Companies like Cisco are well placed to be the innovative hardware and software vendors of the future. They have all the assets and the skills in-house. I know Cisco has maintained a group of talented OSS and software experts through their acquisitions. If Cisco invests in taking their software and hardware forward together, in a joined up way, they’ll have a major advantage over the established Big OSS vendors.

The opportunity is there. Let’s see if they plan to seize it.