Amazon denies move into network hardware in phonecall to Cisco

Amazon denies move into network hardware in phonecall to Cisco

Amazon has denied reports that it is planning to manufacture and sell its own network switches – a move that would have pitched the company against hardware makers such as Cisco, Juniper Networks, Arista, HPE, Avaya, Netgear, and Dell.

Earlier this week, The Information suggested that Amazon Web Services (AWS) had been eyeing the hardware end of the enterprise cloud, in the form of the $14 billion global market for data centre switches.

The report said that AWS was considering selling its own switches – the controllers that allow networked devices to talk to each other – to business customers, according to an Amazon insider. The hardware would be ‘white box’ manufactured, with built-in connections to Amazon’s Web services offerings.

That story has now been denied by AWS CEO Andy Jassy, who reportedly reassured Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins in a phone call yesterday that it is “not actively building a commercial network switch”, according to investor site MarketWatch.

Cisco’s stock was hit by the reports a few days ago of AWS’ entry into the cloud hardware market, declining in value by over three percent.

A Cisco spokesman who broke the news of the top-level phone call stressed that the two companies have a longstanding customer and partner relationship. AWS has since confirmed Cisco’s account of the conversation.

However, the wording of Amazon’s denial is interesting. It did not deny that it is exploring the manufacture of its own networking hardware, merely that it is not actively planning to commercialise it by selling it to other businesses.

Plus: Cisco commits $100 million to UK

In related news, Cisco has announced a $100 million commitment to the UK, to help accelerate digital innovation. The investment includes the establishment of a new AI research centre in London, in partnership with UCL.

Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme – of which the UK investment is part – is designed to address challenges such as: AI in the data economy; ageing societies; the future of mobility; and clean growth.

Internet of Business says

A number of companies in the cloud space, such as Facebook, already develop their own hardware from white-box components, so it would not be unusual for Amazon to be designing its own systems for internal use – hardware that would end up being used by Amazon’s hosting customers by default.

If so, it’s likely that it had at least considered selling switches to AWS customers. But that might have opened up a war on too many fronts for an already hyper-extended business.

‘Own brand’ chips are very much in the frame for many companies too. For example, Facebook wants to design and manufacture processors to be used in its own home/consumer devices, as well as in its data centres.

Facebook’s move to design custom System on Chip and application-specific processors echoes both the recent strategies of Google, which has developed microprocessors to speed AI and search features in its data centres, and Apple, which makes a range of processors for its own devices, including application, Bluetooth, and security chips.

Recent reports have suggested that Apple is also looking to further reduce its reliance on Intel (which celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday) by ditching the x86 architecture for its Mac computers in favour of its own silicon.

These examples are all part of an industry-wide move by technology providers and platforms to detach from companies such as Intel and Qualcomm, and gain greater control over product development, production, and distribution, creating a more integrated manufacturing and operating environment.

Amazon’s rumoured moves in networking hardware could be part of that same trend towards self-reliance and systems control.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.