Cisco has built a developer program to try to get coders to build for Cisco networking gear, because it realizes that as software-defined networking and bare-metal switches advance, network engineers have to want to build for Cisco gear instead of pay to be certified on the high-margin boxes.
The new program, called DevNet, which Cisco quietly showed off during its Cisco Live event in May, is part of the networking giant’s response to the threat facing its core business on several fronts. First, large webscale buyers are forgoing the Cisco gear and opting to build their own or go with products from Arista that are designed for scaled out networks that they run.
Second, the advance of software-defined networking and separation of the physical routing of traffic from the box that figures out how to route the traffic means that Cisco now competes with software-based controllers and dumb, commodity boxes. Cisco has long had fancy software, but it was always wrapped in a very expensive and high-margin box.
As the networking world undergoes the same disruption from scaled out buyers and the effective virtualization of the network, the people who have built networks will need a new set of skills that has less to do with learning proprietary software and cabling, and more to do with actually designing and implementing a network in software.
Facebook recently claimed that its new switch designs and networking OS are built the way they are because it wants to eliminate network engineers. So with that in mind, Cisco is trying to recruit its base to the software-centric networking ethos while also trying to recruit the current devops-focused engineers at startups and webscale customers to the Cisco worldview. Thus it will offer APIs, integrations with partners and an app store.
Will it work? Cisco has marketing muscle, an entrenched base and lots of money, but this tide of change sweeping over networking will likely render Cisco’s efforts as effective as a New Orleans levee.