I was listening to the HP Virtual Connect (VC) PPP podcast recently and got the impression that HP VC is a weirdly convoluted product. I started wondering what exactly they were thinking when they were designing it ... and had the epiphany when Ken Henault took a step back and explained the history leading to the current complexity (listen to the Packet Pushers podcast to get the whole story)
Obvious HP VC started as a simple patch panel and evolved through a series of building-a-better-mousetrap enhancements while still retaining the backward compatibility. No wonder Cisco UCS networking seems revolutionary, while it’s in fact just a great common-sense greenfield design using contemporary technology. Obviously every vendor falls into the vicious circle of maintaining dinosaur technologies and supporting legacy decision (the prime example being IBM’s mainframes and SNA) ... until the product finally crumbles under the weight of unsupportable layers of face-lifting plaster.
As the long history of failed startups shows, it’s not enough to have a disruptive product. What matters more is the ability to execute: delivering high-quality product when and where expected, delivering all the supporting documentation (from whitepapers and design guides to product manuals), offering excellent technical support, and winning the hearts and minds of the users. Cisco UCS is doing pretty well because Cisco has mastered this process.
Last but definitely not least, let’s tackle the obvious T.rex in the room: Cisco IOS. Monolithic architecture designed 20 years ago and stretched way past its intended usage parameters. It’s been attacked for years with moderate success (example: Juniper), but we haven’t seen truly disruptive challenges yet (HP’s 3Com/H3C acquisition is just a different mousetrap competing with Cisco on price and Gartner praise). I’ve seen some interesting alternatives during the Net Field Day in September, but they either remain limited to a niche market (Force10 has excellent high-speed layer-3 switches) or lack the ability to execute (Arista still keeps its product documentation a highly-guarded secret). Too bad; having a disruptive competitor would put some much-needed excitement back into IOS development.