The VMware versus Cisco thing is overstated. It’s easy to conflate issues with all the excitement.
The reality is that many customers have Cisco networks and will use VMware. They want Cisco & VMware to be partners. Customer first is corporate policy at both of these companies therefore Cisco & VMware will be partners.
VMware has a software defined networking solution. It is a natural extension of VMware business that is all about software and hypervisors. VMware does not make hardware. VMware partners with companies to integrate with their hardware via APIs – this includes storage (VAAI & VASA), servers and now networking.
Cisco is a big company that has lots of money. Money buys a lot of smart people. These people could easily predict that VMware will develop a software only solution when they bought Nicira. These people would also suggest that making a SDN solution that integrates with customers existing hardware assets will be easier to sell and get rapid acceptance. Cisco was slow off the mark in starting their SDN solution. Probably because they didn’t believe that SDN was a “thing” at the time.
Cisco’s SDN solution hasn’t been announced yet. Most people assume that Cisco has an SDN solution, probably via Insieme. But there is no public information on it. Cisco also has Nexus 1000v, ONE, XRC, OpenDaylight, Dynamic Fabric Automation, LISP and many more technologies that could be repurposed for SDN. I think it reasonable to assume that Cisco expects Insieme to deliver but has a number of fallback positions if needed. This makes Cisco’s SDN strategy look confusing, over-complex and badly organised. This is also how Cisco develops new technology and it is normal behaviour.
Cisco is a hardware company. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that Cisco will make an SDN solution that will, in some way, rely on hardware integration to provide a differentiated solution from VMware.
Cisco owns approximately 5% of VMware shares. Cisco has licensed specific access to ESX kernel for their Nexus 1000V switch.
VMware NSX will compete with Cisco’s SDN solution. NSX must convince customers that having a software only solution can work. Those customers have been buying hardware/software combinations for decades and the vast majority do not believe that software based networking is possible. Clearly, the two companies will compete but on technical and strategic differences.
Thus, competition can and should be polite and practical. See early statements about “partners”.
Selling VMware NSX will be very hard. It is complex. It requires customers to be willing to significantly change their infrastructure, processes and throw out the ITIL playbook. NSX can be more tightly integrated with OpenStack and VMware than Cisco can achieve because Nicira got there first and left very little space for Cisco to innovate.
Cisco SDN will probably look less complex because it’s look more conventional. Cisco has credibility as a networking company. Cisco SDN will be called Application Centric Infrastructure. This emphasises that Cisco knows all about hardware and networking. Cisco has a dominant market position and incumbent status and is almost certain to use Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in the sales playbook against NSX. This is happening already with existing announcements like “Limitations of a Software-Only Approach to Data Center Networking“.
Customers will have to make a Cisco SDN or VMware NSX decision. It will not be possible to have both. There are no standards for interoperability or integration between SDN controllers today. Each deal will be hard-fought since it will lock in revenue for years to come and set the early movers advantage. This is also normal for new technology. It’s a game that both EMC (VMware’s ultimate owner) and Cisco both know how to play very well.
The EtherealMind View
Cisco competes with a lot companies. And partners with them too. Consider that HP and Cisco compete for networking and servers business. They also partner with many customers too. VMware is experienced in partnering and integrations. They must compete with some companies to achieve growth. Especially while OpenStack and Amazon continues to threaten their existing business.
Competition and partnering. It is possible to do both. It’s time to realise that life is not about black or white, win or lose. There are hundreds or thousands of competitions in this market. Don’t over simplify.
Get over it. It’s 2013. It is perfectly reasonable that both companies will “win”.
Lets move on.
I have been sponsored by both VMware and Cisco for podcasts on their SDN technologies. The results are publicly available podcasts that you can listen. My full disclosure statement is here