The VAR Guy

June 11, 2008

2 Min Read
Are Cisco and Red Hat Getting Cozy?

When Red Hat kicks off its big customer summit June 18 in Boston, the open source giant will bring along a rather large — and surprising — date: Cisco Systems Inc. Why does Cisco plan to hang out at one of the open source industry’s largest events? The VAR Guy has a few hunches.

Over the past year or so, Cisco has begun a quiet metamorphosis. During meetings with The VAR Guy in 2006, Cisco could barely utter the term “open source,” and company insiders weren’t familiar with industry players like Canonical, SugarCRM or MySQL (since acquired by Sun Microsystems).

But by mid-2007, The VAR Guy noticed some small but significant changes. During a media gathering in Dublin, Ireland, Cisco managers actually uttered the “open source” term, and they spoke a bit about their efforts to get open source (and closed source) application developers aboard the unified communications bandwagon.

Good News, Bad News

The VAR Guy isn’t suggesting that Cisco is ready to start open sourcing all of its software projects. But the networking company is starting to realize that open source is both a blessing and a burden.

On the upside, Cisco can leverage open source partners to fend off Microsoft’s unified communication efforts. We all know that application developers are the key to winning platform wars. And in Cisco’s mind, the next big platform is unified communications.

Now, for the challenge: Open source also threatens Cisco in some ways, particularly at the low end of the market where companies like Digium, Untangle and others are promoting open source networking, IP PBX and security solutions.

Open source won’t threaten to destroy Cisco anytime soon, but Cisco isn’t waiting around to see how the competitive landscape evolves.

Welcome to Red Hat Summit

Instead, Cisco is attending — and even sponsoring — events like Red Hat Summit.

During the summit, Cisco is expected to describe how its products complement Red Hat’s middleware. But The VAR Guy thinks Cisco will spend considerable time listening to attendees — rather than pitching products.

Microsoft spent the 1990s ignoring and dismissing competitive threats from Linux. Apparently, Cisco is determined to avoid that mistake in the modern age of Web 2.0 and open applications.

Ignoring open source would mean dismissing dozens of application companies — and thousands of independent programmers — who can add value to Cisco’s unified communications strategy.

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