Is Cisco Really Opening Up IOS?

Rob As mentioned in my last post, I was recently at Cisco’s C-Scape. One reporter asked me to comment on my thoughts regarding a specific announcement (if you can call it that): Cisco will begin go to open up IOS. So you’ve probably got the same question I had: ‘What does “open” mean?’ As best I can tell, it means providing some standards-based APIs so that IOS can be controlled by third-party applications and infrastructure. Seems interesting, but I feel there’s more to it than that.

My initial thoughts are:

  • Opening up IOS is an interesting move on the surface. I’m still curious to understand just how open it will become, but let’s take the statement at face value for now. I think it’s a smart – and necessary – move to create APIs so that infrastructure can speak to IOS-enabled devices. If you think about it, the network is one of the least programmable pieces of infrastructure. Tools designed to automate and orchestrate infrastructure elements like servers, storage, and desktop environments are far more sophisticated and matured. The ability to dynamically change the network is a missing component. However, the recent push for virtualization is now shining a bright spotlight on just how statically configured most enterprise networks are. Originally, this was OK, but now that the network is a bottleneck for virtualization, companies are eager to rethink that environment.
  • Cisco would do well to open up IOS to bolster it’s SONA strategy. Let’s face it, SONA is still confusing. I fundamentally believe it is a smart strategy, but it needs more proof points. I think opening up IOS puts more wood behind the arrow for the “network is the platform” message. Most platforms are something you can develop on and are surrounded by an active community for such development efforts. In the case of SONA, Cisco’s network platform community is far behind those developed by Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and countless other software companies. In terms of building a developer ecosystem, even hardware stalwart Intel is getting into the act these days. I think creating more APIs will at least foster some innovation in terms of how the network exposes services to the rest of the IT ecosystem.
  • We’re slowly beginning to see the effort that’s needed to transform Cisco. I’ve commented a few times on Cisco transforming its business model to look and feel more like a software business. As we’ve published in our research, I think this will be a long, 10+ year journey. Part of inertia stems from decoupling IOS from the hardware appliance and boxes that Cisco has so masterfully sold to-date. Taking bolder steps like opening up IOS will prove they are more committed to a software business model and strategy after all.

Of course, opening up IOS delves into a million challenges, which I will conveniently skip over. I’ll save that for deeper analysis in a future Forrester report. But as always, I’d love to get thoughts and opinions. It’s an interesting time for Cisco (and yes, this will be my last Cisco-specific blog post for the year), but I’d like to hear what others think.

By Robert Whiteley

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