Cisco’s "New" CDN: Evolution or More of the Same?
Cisco wants to be a platform company; but is it willing to let its ecosystem take center stage?
I recently ran across this blog by Cisco's Jennifer Falasca on the "new" Cisco Developer Network (CDN) website. The blog is certainly interesting, as it describes the structure of the program and its value, but it did get me wondering: What's new about this particular version of CDN versus previous instantiations?
Before I get into that, a bit of history of where CDN has been, to give some perspective on where my thoughts are coming from. Over the past decade, I've had a great deal of interest in the CDN.
It actually started as something called "Cisco Technology Developer Program" (CTDP) many years ago, and was being used to foster innovation to create interesting applications to run on an IP phone. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, as the market for IP phone-based applications never really amounted to anything past a few niche applications like corporate directories, news feeds and other things. I actually went to a CTDP event back in the early part of the decade where a number of Cisco IP phone-based applications were being displayed. Since then, the program has evolved and morphed many, many times.
A lack of end customer demand combined with a continually changing structure and no real oversight led to a less than optimal result for Cisco with CTDP. Cisco acquired a company called Metreos to kick-start CTDP, but that wound up being just a custom development environment. Since then, Cisco has had numerous developer programs including the AxP (Application eXchange Program), MSE (Mobile Service Engine), WebEx Connect, and who can forget the Cius Developer program? With all of that behind us, Cisco is taking yet another shot with another version of CDN.
There's an expression that goes, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," and maybe this is shame on me--but I actually think this version of CDN has a shot at being the thing that moves Cisco from being a product company to a platform company. There are many reasons for this, including:
* The network needs to be a platform. Cisco has talked about the "network as a platform" for years, and while one could have argued this was the right move, we really didn't need the network to be a platform. The world was Internet-centric, making the Web the strategic IT platform.
But today, computing is in middle of a significant change. Mobile and cloud computing are the compute platforms of the future, and these are network-centric compute paradigms. This means the network can become a strategic IT platform, creating a real need for a program like CDN.
* Cisco finally has the right programs in place. Cisco talked the talk of platforms and developers for the better part of a decade but everything was only partially baked. AxP, MSE, CTDP, etc. each had interesting use cases but attracted only niche audiences.
Today Cisco has consolidated all of its Web platforms to WebEx; the collaboration group has a single program; and then there's onePK, the company's network development kit. Toss in a smattering of SDN (software defined networking) and I can say, without a doubt, that this version of CDN has much better programs than the ghosts of CDN past.
* Better segmentation. In the past, CDN tried to appeal to everyone with the same program structure. This CDN program treats corporate developers, small ISVs, large ISVs and other partners differently. This ensures the tools and support Cisco offers to its various CDN partners are the right ones for each, instead of overwhelming them all with everything.
So while Cisco has the proper programs, structure and market demand, only time will tell if it has the right mindset to capitalize on this. This concept of the "network as the platform" hasn't gone unrecognized by other vendors as well. Extreme has a developer environment around its XOS operating system, Avaya has DevConnect and Juniper rolled out JunosSpace a couple of years ago. However, these vendors don't have the dominant market share that Cisco has, giving Cisco a huge advantage if it can execute on CDN--but the competitive landscape creates some urgency.
The biggest challenge that I see for Cisco is transforming itself into an organization that is willing to let its development and ecosystem partners play a bit of a different role. Cisco has always had a large group of partners around it (just attend any Cisco Live), but those partners were the sideshow and Cisco was the star.
When you become a platform vendor, the partners are often the star of the show and the platform takes a back seat. As an example, people buy Windows applications and then Windows gets pulled through. The applications have the value and the underlying platform supports it. This is the difference between being ecosystem-led as opposed to being ecosystem-supported.
Cisco has talked this talk for over a decade now. Let's see if cloud, mobility and SDNs finally give Cisco the opportunity to walk the walk.