The Network Hub

Mar 29 2012   4:23PM GMT

Cisco’s mysterious spin-in hiring talent from SDN vendors

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

I think it’s safe to say that Cisco’s answer to software-defined networking and OpenFlow is starting to take shape.

Om Malik reports that Insieme (or Insiemi, depending on whom you talk to), a mysterious spin-in subsidiary of Cisco Systems, is aggressively recruiting engineering talent from hot start-ups, including Arista Networks, Big Switch Networks and Nicira Networks. Om says that Cisco/Insieme apparently tried and failed to poach from Arista, but it succeeded in grabbing four executives from Nicira and one from Big Switch, two companies that are major names in the emerging software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization space.

As Brad Casemore’s excellent blog from a couple weeks ago points out, Cisco has a history of propping up spin-in start-ups, which use Cisco cash (and Cisco employees) to build new technology outside its traditional bureaucratic product development structure. Cisco usually maintains a majority stake in the spin-in, with an option to buy the rest. When the spin-in company has something fully-baked, Cisco buys the entire company and welcomes back its former employees.

The last Cisco spin-in we saw was Nuova Systems. In 2006, Cisco staked about $70 million to start the company, then two years later bought out the minority owners (including several Cisco veterans who are reportedly also involved in starting Insieme). Nuova essentially built the first Nexus 5000 switch. As a subsidiary of Cisco, Nuova collaborated closely with its parent company so that the Nexus 5000 would be compatible with the Nexus 7000 series of switches, which were introduced shortly before Cisco spun Nuova back into the company.

Cisco/Insieme is reportedly dangling million of dollars to snatch talent from Nicira and Big Switch. By targeting these companies, Cisco is making it pretty obvious what Insieme is up to, even though it has been coy about its plans for SDN thus far. When I asked Cisco CEO John Chambers about software-defined networking last month, he said:

We absolutely view [software-defined networking] as a viable option for the future, either as a total architecture or segments of it. We probably spend a couple hours a week focused on our strategy in this market through a combination of internal development, partnering and acquisition. If we do our job right you’ll see us move on multiple fronts here. And at the right time, when it is a benefit to our customers, we will outline our strategy for them.

He added that any SDN solution from Cisco would be heavily tied to Cisco’s strategy to differentiate with its application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), the custom network silicon it builds into most of its switches.

So here we have a company founded by Cisco’s hardware-centric veterans snatching up software ninjas from SDN vendors. What could they be up to? Do you have any ideas? Let us know in comment below.

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