HP: Cisco's SDN Strategy Will Harm Customers

Hewlett-Packard and Cisco are at odds over just about everything else at this point, so why not software-defined networking (SDN) strategies, too?

Michael Nielsen, director, solution marketing for HP Networking, this week saluted Cisco for "recognizing the need for programmability at multiple layers," but needled its networking archival for coming to the SDN table from what Nielsen describes as a "largely proprietary" approach based on Cisco's recent SDN announcements.

"From what I can tell in the public materials, Cisco's approach will be largely proprietary, particularly when it comes to network device programmability, which in HP's view contradicts the SDN movement," Nielsen wrote in a Thursday post to HP's enterprise business blog. "This could likely result in a slowed ratification of industry standards, which will stifle cross-vendor collaboration."

Added Nielsen: "Given that organizations are shifting towards multi-vendor networks, this proprietary move will ultimately harm customers, not help them."

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The SDN strategies of major switching and routing vendors like Cisco and HP are being closely watched thanks to the commonly-held belief that SDN, which emphasizes easily programmable, endlessly customizable, fully virtualized networks, will create even less of a need for proprietary switching and routing technologies.

Executives from both HP and Cisco have rebutted this claim, however. Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's CTO, told CRN in April that not only will the network not be commoditized, "there will be a lot more value generated from it."

HP, for its part has been a public supporter of SDN and of networking protocol OpenFlow, and earlier this year said it would make commercially available OpenFlow-enabled versions of 16 of its switch models. In April, HP went live with its Virtual Application Network strategy -- something Nielsen highlights in his post among ways in which HP is leveraging SDN technology with strategic partners like Microsoft and F5 Networks.

"The goal is to use SDNs to simplify the network without adding complexity, and we will continue to innovate and lead the market with disruptive technology, based on SDN principles, planned for later this year," Nielsen wrote.

NEXT: Cisco's Strategy Forces SDN Adoption

Cisco's SDN strategy thus far appears to center on two major priorities. One is a start-up company called Insiemi in which Cisco has invested $100 million and holds rights to potentially acquire for $750 million more on top of that, hence its description as a potential "spin-in" M&A play for Cisco.

The other is what Cisco calls the Open Network Environment (ONE), which was officially announced at Cisco Live earlier this month. ONE provides a suite of APIs for developers in several different Cisco operating systems, and Cisco also said it will be offering proof-of-concept controller software and a proof-of-concept OpenFlow agent as ways to further SDN research in academia. Cisco's Nexus 1000V virtual switch also now includes support for OpenStack and for Cisco's VXLAN gateway functionality.

In his post, however, HP's Nielsen takes Cisco's announcements to task and compares them to HP's recent launches. HP understands not only SDN innovations but also the importance of partnering with other vendors like Microsoft and F5 for an ecosystem approach to the future of networking, Nielsen wrote.

"Cisco's announcement shows they are forced to embrace SDNs," Nielsen wrote. "However, the proprietary approach to their closed ecosystem is definitely not the right one."