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By | Kat Hall 17th February 2016 12:58

Cisco wants net admins to become programmers so they'll buy its SDN kit

Reckons it'll get three million coders for its platform in next four years

Cisco Live For a company specializing in making 80 per cent of the world’s networking kit, Cisco ought to be good at transmitting its corporate plans – but that's not the case when it comes to Cisco's software-defined networking (SDN) ambitions.

Over the past few years, observers have commented that SDN poses an existential threat to the networking tin-pusher, as it will undermine its traditional hardware sales.

However, according to Susie Wee, CTO of networked experiences at Cisco, that could not be further from the truth. Asked if Cisco is shifting towards being a software company, she responded: “Absolutely.”

Speaking to The Register at Cisco Live in Berlin this week, she said the move to SDN is “under development,” but insists that Cisco is no King Canute when it comes to accepting the incoming tide of clever software controlling networks.

"We will still do the hardware where it matters and where the performance really matters," said Wee. "But we are also embracing things like network virtualisation.”

She said Cisco intends to have three million developers working on its programmable networking platform by 2020. At the moment there are 317,000.

That will include a whole range of coders, including the kinds of network architects that are running financial trading platforms or space communications systems.

"They are [the kinds of people] running mission critical operations that businesses really depend on – they are amazing technologists," said Wee.

"But software has not been their day job. They all coded at one point, but now that networking is moving to SDN they need to learn about what’s going on today. Not that don’t have the basics, but they need to modernise their tool set. And for that audience we having coding one-on-ones.

“It’s old-school thinking to say that SDN is not good for Cisco. It’s actually very good for Cisco to be on that technology and help define it in a way that makes networks work in this new domain.”

As we've previously pointed out, SDN threatens to eat into margins and reduce the value of Cisco's proprietary switches. El Reg estimated in 2013 there to be $35bn worth of ageing Catalyst 6500 series switches in use.

In order to boost its SDN credibilities, the US tech giant has been gobbling companies and building in-house skills in equal measure. “We’ve had some acquisitions, and that’s brought really good DNA into the company," Wee said.

She continued: "The key to SDN being successful is the growth of the developer ecosystem. Because SDN is about network programmability and Devnet [the company’s developer network] is about making that real."

The point of the developer network is to educate people: "We need to continue to develop the SDN technology itself, make sure we build the right ecosystem, and make sure the network providers are using it. That’s what the whole programme is about.

"All the messages from Cisco are: go faster and get more developers. We’re not slowing down at all. Maybe we haven’t communicated it, but we are accelerating." ®

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