With $141M Cariden deal, Cisco getting serious about SDN for ISPs

Cisco (s csco) said Thursday that it intends to buy Cariden, a company that makes software that helps virtualize service provider networks, for $141 million. With the deal Cisco gets a company that can help it bring the benefits of software defined networking (SDN) to Cisco’s core service provider customers. Cariden already has many large ISPs buying its network planning and management software.

Software defined networking has made a splash in the cloud and data center world as a means to easily abstract the network hardware from the virtual machines and other applications running on top of it. However, ISPs are just as excited about bringing SDNs and OpenFlow-based commodity routing software into the wide area networks they run. Both Comcast and Verizon are founding members of the Open Networking Foundation.

Cariden, which is self-funded and claims to have been profitable since 2003, has been integrating southbound protocols such as BGP, Open Flow and others, into its software so the software can understand the underlying network topology and assets. However, it is trying to keep a very backwards-compatible approach since few ISPs are going to rip out their existing routing gear and software for all new SDN-compliant products, according to Alan Sardella, VP of marketing at Cariden, whom I spoke with earlier this week.

Cariden also has tried to find ways that ISPs can take advantage of SDN for problems they already have, such as bandwidth management. For example, it offers routing optimization software that will help ISPs send their packets over the most optimal routes across a variety of network assets — either to ensure lower latency or perhaps lower costs.

What’s interesting about the release from Cisco is that it focuses on the network planning software as well as the management tools for converged networks, while downplaying efforts that Cariden has put into integrating a variety of southbound protocols, including OpenFlow, into its products. Cariden also has a partnership with Big Switch, which is promoting a modular and software-centric view of networking as opposed to Cisco’s more integrated view.

Cisco’s release says:

Cariden’s products and technology will advance Cisco’s nLight technology for IP and optical convergence. The acquisition also supports the company’s Open Network Environment (ONE) strategy by providing sophisticated wide area networking (WAN) orchestration capabilities. These capabilities will allow service providers to improve both the programmability of their networks and the utilization of existing network assets across the IP and optical transport layers.

This deal, plus last week’s acquisition of Meraki for $1.2 billion, is a smart one for Cisco, and emphasizes that the company is paying attention to its core service provider business. Cariden will help Cisco offer wireline ISPs the tools to implement software defined networks as they consolidate myriad different network assets into one unified pool that they can then manage more easily and economically. As networking everywhere is growing more complex, Cisco is buying the technology to ensure its customers are served while downplaying the disruption to its business.

Cariden employees will be integrated into Cisco’s Service Provider Networking Group, and the acquisition is expected to be completed in the second quarter of Cisco’s fiscal year 2013.