Will start-ups ever again have to purchase network hardware in order to do business? A few years ago that question would have been silly. No longer. Thanks to the rise of increasingly vibrant cloud computing platforms, start-ups can get most of what they need through a few commodity servers, PCs, and Web browsers.

And Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), which you'd think wouldn't be OK with that, is. The market's leading seller of data networking equipment recently submitted a proposal for Networking as a Service (NaaS) to the OpenStack open-source cloud computing project.

Championed by Rackspace Hosting (NYSE: RAX), OpenStack is a collection of open-source software tools and protocols for transforming a collection of Web-connected servers and storage devices into a functioning infrastructure for hosting business software.

Cisco's contribution suggests ways to effectively define and share resources over a virtual network -- i.e., a network defined in software rather than through hardwired collections of servers, switches, and routers.

Having Cisco participate is a huge win for OpenStack. As CNET's Dave Rosenberg points out here, the project has long lacked a serious set of data networking tools. Should its NaaS proposal meet with the approval of the wider OpenStack membership, it could elevate the platform and put pressure on closely held alternatives, such as VMware's (NYSE: VMW) newly released Cloud Foundry and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Azure.

Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think about OpenStack and its alternatives using the comments box below. You can also rate Cisco in Motley Fool CAPS.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is tired of cloudy days. Hello, spring? Are you there?