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Strategic Move? Cisco Invests in SDN/NFV Company

Networking kingpin Cisco Systems Inc. made another new-age networking move this week by investing in a French company, 6WIND, which specializes in helping enterprises implement software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies in existing systems.

The investment is the latest twist in Cisco's complicated relationship with new-age networking. The new technologies threaten the old-guard networking companies, with Cisco being identified by industry experts as the company in the most danger of disruption. That's because key tenets of the upstart approaches -- such as an open versus proprietary philosophy and moving network intelligence from proprietary, customized hardware to white-box (or bare-metal) devices -- contrast with Cisco's traditional approach of integrated, proprietary systems. The company has seemed to reject the movement, propose alternatives and finally somewhat embrace it.

Cisco in the last few years has developed its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) as an SDN-flavored alternative to the totally open approach. ACI uses Cisco's proprietary Nexus 9000 switches and its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC).

With key customers and the industry in general moving to the modern alternatives that promise more network programmability and agility, however, Cisco has invested more and more in mainstream SDN/NVF.

The latest investment comes as part of a broader initiative to invest in French businesses, but it could serve as a harbinger of things to come. Just a few months ago, Cisco announced it was acquiring Silicon Valley SDN startup Embrane -- after it had invested in the company last year.

"Cisco Investments has made an investment in 6WIND, a Parisian start-up, whose software solves performance challenges for network vendors in telecom, enterprise and cloud infrastructure markets," Cisco said this week in a statement. "6WIND creates new market opportunities for NFV and SDN, and creates industrial applications and IP-based communications systems. Cisco is directly supporting start-ups by providing infrastructure solutions that deliver high-speed broadband and smart grids throughout the country."

There were no indications that Cisco's investment move would follow the Embrane model with a subsequent acquisition, but some industry pundits described it as a strategic move to arm itself in the SDN/NFV war with competitors such as HP.

Here's how 6WIND framed the move. "The networking and telecom industries are undergoing a significant transformation due to huge volumes of data that necessitate advances with virtualization on standard servers through NFV and SDN," the company said in a news release this week. "As a result, the networking and telecom industries can realize similar benefits delivered from the Internet with cloud computing and datacenter virtualization to stay competitive through cost savings, scalability and flexibility. With the transition to new-generation architecture, it is critical to deploy the proper software on servers to ensure performance and functionality rivals legacy specialized equipment."

6WIND said its software provide the following benefits:

  • It enables the network architecture transition by delivering the performance, features and network hardware independence required for virtual networking on standard servers, without changing the existing software infrastructure.
  • It addresses broad market convergence across service providers, datacenters and enterprises.
  • It's already deployed in critical applications for Blue Chip companies and achieves fast revenue growth with teams around the world.

"We are proud to have Cisco, the largest networking company in the world, as an investor, which is a testament to the critical technology 6WIND provides to enable the transition to NFV and SDN," said 6WIND CEO Eric Carmes. "With this investment, we look forward to further advancing our technology innovation and world-wide growth to accelerate the networking and telecom industry transformation."

Terms of the investment weren't disclosed.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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