Is Sun Preparing to Take on Cisco?

A while back in Virtualization Short Take #25 I briefly mentioned Sun’s Crossbow network virtualization software, which brings new possibilities to the Solaris networking world. Not being a Solaris expert, it was hard for me at the time to really understand why Solaris fans were so excited about it; since then, though, I’ve come to understand that Crossbow brings to Solaris the same kind of full-blown virtual network interfaces and such that I use daily with VMware ESX. Now I’m beginning to understand why people are so thrilled!

In any case, an astute reader picked up on my mention of Crossbow and pointed me to this article by Jonathan Schwartz of Sun, and in particular this phrase:

You’re going to see an accelerating series of announcements over the coming year, from amplifying our open source storage offerings, to building out an equivalent portfolio of products in the networking space…

That seemingly innocuous mention was then coupled with this blog post and the result was this question: is Sun preparing to take on Cisco? Is Sun getting ready to try to use commodity hardware and open source software to penetrate the networking market in the same way that they are using commodity hardware and open source software to try to further penetrate the storage market with their open storage products (in particular, the 7000 series)?

It’s an interesting thought, to say the least. Going up against Cisco is a bold move, though, and I question Sun’s staying power in that sort of battle. Of course, with Cisco potentially distracted by the swirling rumors regarding the networking giant’s entry into the server market, now may be the best time to make this move.

Thoughts?

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  1. Ed C.’s avatar

    I would think that partnering with a Juniper or Foundry-type company and OEMing equipment from those companies would be a more prudent move than venturing on their own to create new network devices.

  2. Alessandro Perilli’s avatar

    Interesting.
    Cisco is preparing to enter the server market with codename California while Sun is preparing to enter the networking market.

    If the company really wants to compete with Cisco using open source software than they may be targeting Vyatta for acquisition.
    And that, considering their upcoming server virtualization offering, would be interesting.

  3. Bill Marren’s avatar

    How on earth would Cisco respond if Sun started introducing products with better performance, at a fraction of the price, built on high volume open source adoption?

  4. slowe’s avatar

    Ed,

    You might think that, but–if I’m understanding things correctly–this isn’t just about getting into the networking market by OEM’ing other companies products. It’s about pushing Sun’s core technology portfolio–Solaris, Solaris Zones, Crossbow, etc.–into entirely new markets.

    Alessandro,

    I agree, but I’ll respond with the same statement again–I think it’s really about creating new market demand for their existing technologies, and to do that they need to push Solaris, Zones, xVM, Crossbow, etc. Acquiring Vyatta would mean a lengthy acquisition/integration process, and if Sun has ANY chance to succeed they cannot afford a delay.

    Bill,

    I guess that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

  5. David Magda’s avatar

    Remember that Andy Bechtolsheim is Chairman and Chief Development Officer of Arista, a highspeed networking start up he’s partly funding:

    http://www.aristanetworks.com/en/Management_Team

    He’s only working at Sun ‘part-time’, but is still on the payroll AFAIK.

  6. Nate’s avatar

    If Sun decides to play in that realm, the once pretty empty sector realm is going to start getting crowded. Juniper is really starting to get some steam with its EX series of switching gear, and is setting up to be Cisco’s prime competition. They bring a lot of background knowledge from their successful carrier grade product lines into their enterprise gear, so they shape up to be perhaps the most capable of jockying against Cisco. Now with the two big boys going at it, Sun could either sneak in while they are distracted or find there isn’t really any room for them in the market.

  7. Wade O'Harrow’s avatar

    Very interesting concept. Sun taking on Cisco… However, as Red Hat showed us open source code is nice, but not quickly adopted by large mainstream companies. (while RedHat is actually doing quite well, everyone in the beginning thought RHEL would damage Microsoft. In reality they are growing by replacing Sun!) This is more of a last ditch effort for Sun to try to establish some sort of new Brand identity in the market. A once proud Brand which has been reduced to a shadow of itself. As for Cisco with their marketshare and the amount of product already deployed, an open source product from Sun will likely have a minimal impact. A better question…. is Sun trying to be just enough of an annoyence to Cisco to make itself a more attractive acquisition target? Sun has been losing marketshare and spinning out of control for years, does anyone really think they make it to the other side of this recession? Many would probably say they never really recovered from the last recession. And I can’t believe that Cisco is raising all that Cash to just buy Flip, the digital video camera maker.

  8. Marc Richards’s avatar

    Jonathon Schwartz’s latest blog entry pretty much confirms this move:

    general purpose microprocessors and operating systems are now fast enough to eliminate the need for special purpose devices. That means you can build a router out of a server…

    we now build our entire line of storage systems from general purpose server parts, including Solaris and ZFS, our open source file system….We are planning a similar line of networking platforms, based around the silicon and software you can already find in our portfolio.

    @Wade
    I think this is the perfect time for them to make this move. The recession is forcing business to reevaluate their purchases to make sure they are getting value for money. This lines up perfectly with what Sun is proposing.

    I suspect than Sun will use the relauched network.com (just six days away) as a proving ground for this technology

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