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Cisco intent-based networking to beat out open OS, company claims

At Cisco Live, CEO Chuck Robbins emphasized customer preference for integrated hardware and software that offer Cisco intent-based networking over open OSes.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The growing use of white box switching in the data centers of carriers and large enterprises has forced Cisco to open up its hardware to other network operating systems. Nevertheless, executives insist the majority of its customers remain committed to integrated hardware and software over open OSes.

At the Cisco Live conference this week, executives told reporters white boxes constructed of open source standards and capable of running operating systems from multiple vendors remain a niche market.

Customers prefer integrated hardware and software that help meet business needs, rather than having to piece together systems, said David Goeckeler, general manager of Cisco's networking and security business. "They want the full stack integrated -- a simple solution of intent-based networking, as opposed to decomposing all the pieces and trying to build it themselves."

Cisco intent-based networking refers to the vendor's software that configures networks based on policies set by engineers. The centralized systems eliminate the need to configure each switch or router manually.

Cisco opens up products for certain customers

Cisco has required the use of at least some of its hardware to run the software-based networking systems. To compete for the business of carriers and large enterprises, however -- particularly financial institutions and large cloud providers -- Cisco has opened up some of its products.

In March, Cisco started giving enterprises the option of running its Nexus operating system on third-party switches, while providing the same flexibility to telcos using its carrier-grade OS. The company also produced the technology for running another OS on Nexus data center switches.

Microsoft, for example, is running the Sonic operating system on Nexus 9200 and 9300 switches within the company's Azure public cloud. Microsoft developed Sonic and contributed it to the Open Compute Project, a Facebook-founded group that designs open source hardware.

The days of [customers] being enamored with systems integration and going through all these processes and gluing equipment together, they have moved completely away from that.
Chuck RobbinsCEO, Cisco

Cisco does not expect to make the same open OS-based design changes in many of its products, insisting customers still want prebuilt systems that include Cisco intent-based networking as a central component.

"The days of [customers] being enamored with systems integration and going through all these processes and gluing equipment together, they have moved completely away from that," said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. "We see fewer and fewer customers that are talking about this, because it slows down their ability to actually get to [business] outcomes." 

Nevertheless, Robbins did not close the door on further disaggregation of its hardware and software.

"We don't have any technology religion," he said. "We're going to listen to our customers, and we're going to try to build solutions that work for them and are good for us."

On tariffs and trade wars

During the meeting with reporters, Robbins also discussed President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on some of the nation's closest allies, including Canada and the European Union. Trump's actions have led to threats of retaliatory tariffs and a possible trade war.

Asked whether the economic tension could affect the tech industry, he said, "I'm sure it could."

"If the geopolitical tensions turn into a broad-based, all-out trade war, then I think we'll all be affected in some way, shape or form," Robbins said.

But Robbins was optimistic the countries -- the United States, Mexico, Canada, France, Germany and China -- would eventually reach a compromise. "All of these economies are too important to the overall global economic situation for us to not ultimately get to a good place," he said.

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