Cisco has something to prove to network engineers and managers this year at Cisco Live 2010 – and it has less to do with elaborate data center strategies and more to do with proving that it's still a dependable core networking vendor.
Yet it's more likely that Cisco will spend this week in Las Vegas touting its Unified Computing System for the converged data center, as well as its video and collaboration strategies, rather than addressing its Cisco supply chain shortages, its $9 million list of end-of-life Cisco products, beefing up its switching products and providing details about application-aware security, which customers are demanding.
Cisco supply chain woes top of mind at Cisco Live 2010
Considering Cisco has expanded its portfolio in the past couple of years to include everything from data center servers to Flip cameras, it's hard to swallow the fact that it's been difficult to get a hold of a basic firewall.
"Here we have an ASA 5510 and it took two-and-a-half months to get memory in just to put an image on it, said Carl Yost, IT administrator at The McGuire Group, a set of healthcare facilities.
"It seems like they are concentrated more on telepresence and other new stuff, and the routing and switching is not their main focus," said Yost, who also writes the blog CCIE Journey.
The combination of the supply shortage and end-of-life issues is the ultimate frustration.
"Don't tell me that you want to end-of-life 95% of my network, but you can't get me product," said a network architect at a Fortune 500 company with an entirely Cisco multinational network. "How can you tell me you're going to develop 40 or 100 Gig product, but you can't deliver a basic router in a timely manner?"
It's not that engineers aren't looking for beefed up 40 and 100 GigE switching at the core. In fact, many say Cisco must help the customer base upgrade from the 6500 by improving the 7000.
"Many of the features on the Nexus 7000 are way behind. It still doesn't do MPLS, and it doesn't do advanced routing in a major way. The new set of line codes won't ship until early next year. And the next generation that will do higher performance 40 and 100 Gig won't be out until late this year, early next year," said network engineer Greg Ferro, who writes the blog Ethereal Mind. "The 6500 platform, which we all know and love, runs like a pig. It's a hodgepodge with bits of this and legacy that."
Still, many customers are reluctant to bail on the 6500 because the 7000 is so expensive and because there's so much room for that product to grow, Ferro said. Yet if engineers are going to move away from the beloved 6500, since the 7000 is so different, there's a chance they could go to a competitor like Arista, which has much lower prices and added features, he said.
Cisco converged data center strategy: What's the storage story?
At Cisco Live 2010 this week, Cisco is expected to push its Unified Computing System – or converged data center strategy. HP touted its converged data center strategy at its Technology Forum in Las Vegas last week, and the two vendors are locked in battle to convince customers to choose between them for a whole solution rather than combining HP servers and Cisco networking, which is more typical.
But Cisco customers and partners would like to see a clearer storage strategy before they invest in Cisco for a soup-to-nuts converged data center network. Cisco currently provides storage through partnerships with EMC and NetApp.
"They've got these architectures that are loosely coupled with NetApp and EMC, but who is ultimately responsible? The partner is always responsible," said Mark Melvin, CTO at solution provider ePlus, also an HP partner.
HP, on the other hand, already has the whole technology set available, he said, but for now customers will not necessarily trust in HP for their networking needs – especially considering that the company is still integrating the 3Com-Huawei technology.
"The bulk of my customers are going to say, 'Do I really want to buy Chinese switches? No,'" Melvin said. "Given the current political climate, that's a little tough for me to swallow to make this wholesale transition."
Cisco Live 2010: What about security?
Cisco is also dependent on partnerships in the security space, and that's trouble for engineers looking for more complex application-aware solutions than the ASA firewall. This year, Cisco launched its Borderless Network strategy, which pushes encryption and access control into switches, but some have criticized the company's strategy for not going deep enough.
When it comes to "Web application proxies or online F5-type products, they've completely left all of that to third parties, and they are not making acquisitions," Ferro said. "When you ask about security, you don't think of Cisco; you think of Checkpoint and Juniper firewalls."
Irksome Cisco IOS 15 licensing changes
Finally, if Cisco Live were a platform for wish list requests, network engineers would ask that Cisco make some changes enabling them to use Cisco IOS in emulation tools without having to pay separate fees. When Cisco IOS was released last October, the company implemented a policy in which engineers would have to enter a registration key into every machine to verify the software license. That meant that engineers could no longer take the software image and use it free of charge in emulation tools.
"What I would like to see is Cisco come out with an education license," said PacketLife blogger Jeremy Stretch.