Years ago I read The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars, a book that tells the story of the Coke versus Pepsi battles of the '80s. The Pepsi versus Coke war, I learned, was a game of chess writ large -- and the outcomes of each move reverberated through my childhood.
I learned something in that book that applies directly to the battle for SDN product mindshare between Cisco and VMware: If you want to control a market filled with contenders, you need to pick one foe and elevate them to be your main competitor. The goal is to split the market in consumers' minds so that they only see two choices. Sometimes this happens organically because of already established markets (Cisco and VMware are both huge players in their respective markets), and other times you have to create one from whole cloth.
More on the Cisco vs. VMware SDN battle
Cisco SDN vs. VMware network virtualization: What to know
Cisco and VMware: Which will network pros choose?
Cisco's almost-open SDN will outdo VMware
Why VCE Vblock won't die in the Cisco-VMware battle
Competitors sound off on Cisco ACI
Networkers say Cisco SDN is far superior, if you can rip and replace
Why is VMware NSX pricing still a secret?
Will VMware network virtualization launch a turf war?
By the 1980s, Coke and Pepsi had been battling for years, and Coke was largely on top (at least until the New Coke debacle almost handed the market to Pepsi). This war between two occurred despite the fact that there were quite a few other cola brands on the market. But nobody else could get a significant share of the consumer market due to the incessant advertising blitz between the two giants. The cola market was reduced in almost everyone's mind to a binary state. You either liked Coke or you liked Pepsi. If you said you liked Tab, you had two heads.
The same thing is happening in the SDN market today. While the market is rich with both established and neophyte players, VMware and Cisco's marketing teams are doing everything they can to frame the argument as a choice between the two. That leaves you choosing between Cisco's application-centric, hardware-dependent SDN strategy and VMware's software-based, hardware-agnostic approach. But this binary choice is a fallacy considering there are competitors with more nuanced approaches than either of the giants would like you to know about.
This isn't to say that what Cisco or VMware is doing vis-à-vis marketing is inherently wrong. It's not. Both companies believe in their respective visions for the market and are doing everything they can to win the hearts and minds of users. If they weren't, consumers and Wall Street alike would give pause and wonder how strong the product lines really are.
But much in the same way that we proletariat need to be aware of logical fallacies and ham-handed marketing employed by the purveyors of our favorite beverages, consumers of SDN product lines must also be aware of the false dichotomy that the battle between the two giants is creating. It may very well turn out that one or both of the competing visions for SDN laid out by Cisco and VMware turn out to be the base on which we build tomorrow's networks. But ignoring other competitors and their visions due to psychological games and marketing ploys does end users a great disservice.
About the author:
Teren Bryson is a lifelong professional network engineer, VMware programmer and Unix geek. He is also whiskey taster; longtime practitioner of the art of beating computer and telecommunications systems into submission; brain hacker; student of everything; cancer survivor; lover of stuff that does stuff and a freelance writer. Read his blog atblog.packetqueue.net and follow him on Twitter @SomeClown.