Competition among vendors in the IT space has always been fierce, but in recent weeks, Cisco has moved to sharply reduce or eliminate the need for entire categories of networking and security products. That move could have major repercussions across the channel.
Just unveiled is Cisco’s Integrated Services Router with Application Experience (ISR-AX), which includes functionality such as WAN optimization, firewalls, intrusion prevention and VPN capabilities, as well as the ability to optimize traffic for different classes of endpoint devices.
“We think we’ve cracked the code on how to deliver applications better,” said Raakhee Misty, senior marketing solutions manager for Cisco. “We want to redefine what a router is by resetting the bar.”
A few weeks earlier, Cisco moved to unify the management of wired and wireless networks in a way that makes it a lot less attractive to deploy other vendors’ wireless networks in accounts that Cisco dominates.
Cisco’s twin efforts represent an opportunity to leverage its networking dominance to eliminate rivals that have gained market share in adjacent categories to the router. For example, WAN optimization appliances are often viewed as “router helpers.” That category is currently dominated by vendors such as Riverbed Technology and Blue Coat Systems.
From a customer perspective, the integration of these functions inside networking gear from a single vendor represents an opportunity to reduce greatly the total cost of networking.
“These changes represent a natural progression of technologies,” said Andre Kindness, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. “Customers see this as an opportunity to reduce the costs associated with having to manage all these different appliances.”
Kindness said Cisco is really moving to address customer concerns relating to the complexity of a Cisco networking environment, which drives up their costs in terms of the number of supplemental appliances they need to acquire and the cost associated with managing those appliances.
However, many channel partners have built entire practices around supplementing Cisco routers and switches with appliances that offload specific networking and security tasks. On one level, the prospect of a resurgent Cisco will be problematic. On another level, Cisco channel partners will be pleased to have a compelling reason for customers to upgrade their networking infrastructure.
Should Cisco prove successful, the implications for a broad swath of networking and security vendors could be profound. While none of them will necessarily go out of business, the growth potential for providers of everything from WAN optimization to firewalls could be severely curtailed.
Cisco, meanwhile, is moving to unify the management of all these services via support for OpenStack, which will be the foundational element of a forthcoming management application. While support for OpenStack may make it easier for customers to swap in rival products, Cisco—via its latest moves—is looking to forestall such efforts by essentially turning as many products as possible into features of its existing offerings.
Ultimately, solution providers will need to figure out where to place their bets. The IT infrastructure landscape is changing at a rapid pace. Although solution providers have an incentive to make sure there is a healthy level of competition, customers are aggressively looking to lower the total cost of enterprise computing, which usually starts with trying to eliminate as many vendors from their environments as possible.
Of course, there will always be instances in which another vendor offers a compelling performance benefit over a highly integrated stack from a single vendor. But as the number of customers in need of that capability dwindles, solution providers in the channel will have to take a hard look at the amount of resources they are allocating to a raft of vendors that are increasingly starting to look like providers of niche technologies versus core IT infrastructure platforms.