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Almost nothing makes me crazier these days than when people talk about service-oriented architecture (SOA) as if it’s just about delivering development and integration flexibility to business applications (by SAP, Oracle, et al.). For anyone paying attention to the leading vendors in the IT infrastructure and management software world, SOA is also the core principle behind the rearchitecting of the IT operations world.

A recent bit of evidence that SOA is critical to the future of IT operations, is Cisco’s announcement last month of its Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA). The announcement was pretty high-level and conceptual, but Cisco’s main goal was to tell the world (especially CIOs) that Cisco’s products will increasingly be designed and delivered to play in an SOA world. This is extremely important, since, as noted in our recent posting, SOA is becoming the blueprint for enterprise IT. For Cisco, the SONA announcement is a way to say that they understand CIOs’ focus is certainly not about “making the network more intelligent”; it’s about delivering end-to-end functionality (a.k.a., services) – across all the major IT assets (servers, networks, information, applications, etc.) – to support critical business processes. And, thus, Cisco’s announcement aligns with CIOs’ goal of making their operations “service-oriented”, going from separately managing silos of IT assets (servers, storage, networks, applications, etc.), as pictured here:

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…to coherently managing capabilities (or “services”) like capacity management, service level management, problem management and security across IT silos, in support of business processes:

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Cisco’s announcement of its intent to align with the second of these pictures has three important ramifications for the company, its customers, its partners and its competitors:

1. Makes Cisco more relevant to the CIO’s agenda: By reorienting its products around a CIO’s services-oriented perspective – where, for example, Cisco is not emphasizing that it’s delivering a “smarter router”, but that it’s delivering “service-level management” (that may happen to be more efficient or easier to deploy because it sits on the network) – gives Cisco the opportunity to be more relevant to the CIO’s agenda, not just the network manager’s.

2. Better sets the stage for Cisco expansion into other parts of the dynamic infrastructure: Orienting its offerings along the end-to-end IT operational services that a CIO cares about makes for a more logical stepping-off point for Cisco to expand its management capabilities from network devices to other parts of the IT stack – including storage (where it is already making forays) and applications (where it is expanding its development focus right now). This expansion will, of course, make competitors of Cisco’s friends (like IBM) in the other IT product silos.

3. Tests Cisco in a more open dynamic IT world: In order to reap the benefits of greater CIO-relevance, and greater opportunity to expand its footprint in the enterprise, Cisco will need to not just talk SOA (or, in their language, SONA), but deliver it. This will require Cisco to aggressively support the development, and adoption of, web services standards needed to support the IT operations environment. It also means that Cisco products (like those of other IT players) will need to be expressed as services, as services standards emerge. And it means, of course, that Cisco will have to compete in a more open, competitive market – and win based on superior implementations within the standards frameworks. Cisco has competed well in standards-based environments, but it has also developed the market power to set some standards as well – this may be more challenging as it ventures more out of its network infrastructure world.

The shift to SOA in the IT operations world is, of course, not just about Cisco. It has huge impact on all vendors in the IT environment, and on the CIO. The shift to an IT operations model based on services that cut across IT product silos promises to give CIOs a much better ability to manage end-to-end in support of businesses processes, and to free CIOs from the redundant functionality (and resulting high costs) of vendor-defined architectures, and product-focused management. It opens up more opportunity for those vendors ready to expand and compete on a services basis across more parts of the IT stack – IBM, HP, CA, BMC, Symantec and others are already running hard and fast down this road. But, as noted above, this shift also reconfigures who each of these suppliers’ competitors are – and ratchets up the competitive pressure.

One last point… I’ve made a big deal of Cisco’s step into the SOA world because of its unique position: it is a dominator in its traditional part of the market. And so its SONA announcement, if delivered upon, suggests that Cisco is ready to step out beyond its lucrative enclave in order to compete for greater relevance and opportunity. The other “dominator” vendor who comes to mind – in a similar position – is Microsoft. In the months ahead, we’ll be looking at Microsoft for signs that it is also reorienting itself and its offerings around CIOs’ service-oriented blueprints, expanding Microsoft’s enterprise opportunity, but also accepting the increased competition and risk that comes with it.

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4 Responses to “Cisco SONA: It’s About the CIO, NOT the Network (or Servers, or Storage, or Applications)”

Excellent writeup. I have also noticed how the business world is changing for Cisco, Microsoft and other’s. Other’s claim this to be the end of the sole hardware business model but my perspective is that it is addition to Cisco’s extremely robust core business – its hardware.

Cisco was the right choose for me because it is necessary able to work easier. It is not the quality you choose but its your ability to accompany the equipment.

“Cisco’s standard hardware” is only incidentally hardware. The hearts and brains are in the software. What hardware the software resides on make precious little difference, other than in performance.

keep-up the good work

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