I’m just getting caught up on all the non-Black Hat news now and am intrigued by Information Week’s coverage of Cisco’s five year transition to a network software pricing model. It’s amazing when you step back and realize the valuable brand Cisco has created and how this allows Cisco to benefit from prices that can be several times that of competitors in some categories. Wouldn’t we all love 70% market share in many of the markets in which we are competing and to charge a premium at the same time. Clearly, Chambers has seen the light of the software model and how it leads to higher software prices and new maintenance revenue streams. What isn’t so clear is interpreting this move as an unbundling strategy as some suspect.
Cisco charging for software doesn’t necessarily mean their software is now cross platform and will run on other vendors’ gear. While this could be true in some situations like network management, VoIP or some security software, it’s not likely we’ll see the same for router and switching software. That would be interesting though because we could all have a better view into when it’s the hardware that is truly unique versus when the value is really in the software. It’s a whole other thing to move from software that works on "your platforms" to software that will work on standard OTS, more-or-less on other vendors’ gear. Revenues for Cisco are what’s a stake here, not altruistic interests that enable customers to mix and match hardware and software.
Information Week helped keep the commercialization of open source software debate move into this week with their article questioning the viability of an OSS router. Interesting their claim that organizations shy away from using open source technology in mission critical applications. (Can anyone say Linux, RedHat, Apache, MySQL, Postgres, etc., to name a few?) I would venture to guess that a good percentage of the security appliances in the network are running some of the OSS listed above.
Just like we talk about Web 2.0 as the next generation of apps and use of the web, maybe its time to think in terms of Open Source 2.0. Many companies are proving viable business models based in part or fully on underlying open source technology, both generally available and internally developed OSS. Information Week does hit square on the important issues of support and reliability, which are a key for any user or provider of open source to solve.
This week I’ve been following the Vyatta announcement of their Open Flexible Router, based on the xorp open source software (OSS) IP router. Three things stand out as most interesting about this announcement; the proclamation of an OSS router taking on Cisco, where the market perceives an OSS router is targeted, is an OSS router enough?
Several slashdoters commented but i think Thomas Ptacek at Matasano hits the sentiment pretty clearly. It’s niave to think that an OSS router will bring serious challenge to the core of the network – that’s certainly not going to be it’s entrypoint. If that was the case then xorp, zerba, etc, would have already have done this.
Frankly, an adoption model more closely to other OSS like snort, nessus and mySQL are more likely. Early adopters bringing in OSS “under the wire” because it’s free, and it can be implemented in a limited enough way that few others have to get involved. This would be much more likely to happen at SMBs or at remote sites in somewhat larger networks. Could an OSS router replace OTS network provider equipment? In some situations, sure, as the technology matures. Certainly the cost curve of OTS x86 hardware makes it attractive. I think one of the most important poin to consider here though is where is this technology given it’s maturity most likely to be a fit. Starting at the core is folly. An OSS router is certainly interesting but it’s more than just about routing.