Eyvonne Sharp wrote an interesting blog post describing the challenges Cisco might have integrating Viptela acquisition, particularly the fact that Viptela has a software solution running on low-cost hardware.
Guess what… Cisco IOS also runs on low-cost hardware, it’s just that Cisco routers are sold as a software+hardware bundle masquerading as expensive hardware.
As I explained in the whitebox switching part of my SDN 101 webinar, networking companies prefer to sell software bundled with hardware while pretending they’re selling you awesomesauce-based hardware (as opposed to Oracle & co who are happy to sell expensive software that runs on whatever hardware you have the leftover budget for).
Some of the reasons are historical: in the early days of networking you had to optimize the hardware and tightly couple software to underlying hardware (even if it was only a generic computer in disguise) to get the best possible performance. However, since the days of early Cisco PIX, networking software was really running on commodity hardware.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s significant difference between x86 server called router and cheap x86 servers you can buy on eBay. After all, the box called router has to survive in a dusty rack with no ventilation let alone airconditioning for a decade. Still, it’s in many cases still just an x86 server.
The “real” reason networking vendors continue to use this charade is probably the habits and psychology of selling networking gear: customers believe they’re buying unicorn-based expensive hardware, whereas in fact they’re really buying the zillions of man-years invested in software development. The vendor sales (oops, account) teams are so used to that mentality that they have a real problem selling anything but boxes. Did you ever see them add some services for free just to get the deal? If you did, what does that tell you?
Finally, please note I’m not picking on Cisco. Everyone was using the same business model, and while everyone is moving away from it, most vendors do it at glacial speeds. Oh, and F5 charges you even more for a VM-based product than for equally-fast hardware product.
To summarize: can we please stop talking about low-cost or expensive hardware and focus on what really matters: the total acquisition cost and total cost of ownership?
Want to know more about software/hardware disaggregation? Russ White and Shawn Zandi did a great job describing the details in Open Networking webinar, and you’ll find even more materials in the Building Next-Generation Data Center online course.