& cplSiteName &

Cisco Asks the Killer SDN Question

Ray Le Maistre

Cisco's unveiling of its Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy and plans for its Insieme Networks "spin-in" has raised some core questions for all those interested in the software-defined networking (SDN) debate: Can, or even should, the theory of pure SDN be put into practice?

I won't go into the details of what Cisco Systems Inc. is doing -- my colleague Dan O'Shea has done an admirable job on that front already. (See Cisco's ACI Gets Physical With SDN.)

What is more interesting is whether Cisco's hardware-centric approach -- even if it is driven by an inevitable protectionist streak -- is the one that will, ultimately, make most sense for network operators. Because the debate really isn't about whether this is a SDN play or not. And it isn't just about whether Cisco is looking to lock customers into its technology, though of course that is a major issue and talking point.

The key debate is whether network decision-makers will weigh up their options and decide they are more happy with what Cisco has to offer compared with the alternatives. And this isn't a straightforward issue: Such decisions will be based on personal experiences, finances, skill sets, perceptions, prejudices, and all the other criteria that come into play when human beings (flawed, complex and often unpredictable as we all are) are involved. Only the other week I heard a senior executive from a major mobile operator say that he didn't care if the next-generation technology he was sourcing for his advanced 4G network was proprietary or not -- he just wants it to work.

So maybe the big question, then, is: Will the majority of network operators of any type (datacenter, wide area network, or both) bet their future on conformance to the emerging SDN specifications, standards, and models that are based on open source software and generic hardware?

Cisco, it seems, is betting that enough of them won't walk away from the IP giant with the sometimes intimidating reputation.

Of course, the Cisco pitch was always going to attract criticism. And given that Cisco has said its proposition will only work to optimum performance levels if its hardware (rather than any third-party gear) is deployed, it would be shocking if there wasn't some sort of outburst from the SDN community.

One of Cisco's main rivals, HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), was pretty quick to issue a statement attacking the router giant's strategy. The "Insieme ACI poorly addresses market needs" because it is "incompatible and complex," claims HP. "ACI is incompatible with existing Nexus products, and ACI doesn't allow for inevitable migration or provide customer investment protection... Cisco is limiting customers' access to the benefits promised by SDN by locking them into a proprietary and Cisco-only architecture." It concludes that Cisco is "trying to defy the SDN movement with hardware-defined proprietary infrastructure."

Naturally, HP goes on to explain how its OpenFlow 1.3-enabled switches provide "the benefits promised by SDN now."

Here's an alternative, and more neutral, perspective from David Krozier, a telecom network infrastructure principal analyst at Ovum Ltd. .

    Cisco continues to promote the role of hardware in delivering future high performance networks and took great pains to distance itself from pure software-based overlay virtualized networks (like the Nicira technology VMware acquired, Junipers Contrail, and Alcatel-Lucent's Nuage) in the data center. Ovum notes that while the 9000 Series switches can operate standalone, the features provided by the APIC controller require Cisco hardware. While this may raise the hackles of those who believe future networks should be based on generic hardware platforms, this approach is unlikely to match the performance capabilities of ACI.

If you hear someone say "Better the devil you know" in networking circles in the coming months, those uttering that phrase might just be talking about Cisco's ACI.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

(14)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
User Rank: Light Beer
11/12/2013 | 3:40:19 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
Insieme is a product of MPL - Mario, Prem and Luca. All are Cisco veterans. They were the principals at Crescendo (Catalyst switches), Nuova (Nexus switches) and others (MDS storage switching, UCS servers. All are exceptional engineers. And all understand that the amazing engine that makes Cisco successful - the sales team. Nobody sells networking boxes better than the Cisco sales team. Crescendo, Nuova and now Insieme provided the sam\les team with a box-based solution... meaning that hardware is a vessel that carries software. Products are essentially priced based upon the box, not the software in the box. Also consitent with the MPL experience is that they deliver better ASICs than their competitors... this carries the assumption that ASICs are required these days for forwarding performance, deep-packet inspection and other compute-intense packet operations. Arista (CEO is former colleague of MPL at Cisco) is betting against ASICs.

In either case, they are both box-based solutions... dependent upon a sales force that knows how to sell boxes. Because Cisco has a broader range of boxes (controller, switch, compute, security, etc), their sales force will have a better chance selling to enterprise and SPs - because of the "single throat to choke" axiom.

User Rank: Light Beer
11/11/2013 | 2:42:45 AM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs


- The control plane that you are speaking about 25+ year in development cycle already and it works.  The fact to posted message here proofs that distributed computation in scale of Internet works ok. If you move control plane from distributed to centralized point you network you still doing control plane , you still need to compute SPF etc  So argument is completely void in this context.

-Argument regarding a loop ... you can have a loop in SDN environment as well.

In normal layer 3 design you have many tools to avoid that and if you do have loops

it only because of bad design nothing to do with technology.

- Hard to troubleshoot ? so you are saying troubleshooting VM in the cloud and/or programmable interface in between is much easy ? did you troubleshoot 2000 line buggy phyton script ?  

There are many valide arguments around SDN architecture but definitly not those that you listed.


User Rank: Light Beer
11/9/2013 | 12:44:39 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
Argument about "proven control plane" for standard decentralized IGP, MPLS control plane and others looks like point of last resort for the vendors like Cisco.

Old control plane proven to be:

- Complex to manage

- Able to create routing loops

- Hard to troubleshoot

- Always needs workarounds, trick and proprietary "improvements" making multivendor solution impossible and locking clients to only one "right choice".

I'm not even talking that traditional vendors like Cisco failed to create full blown EMS/NMS for all their products with good northbound interface.

Of course SDN is not ideal but it allows to break that vendor's jails created by tradional network suppliers and make clients more free in their choices and less dependend.

And for sure nothing comes for free and the price ISPs shall pay is to improve their own expertise and take network knowedge in their own hands. It is a business case to solve and prove.
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/8/2013 | 1:30:08 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
In the US some do, some don't, and many times the RFIs and RFPs may be coming out of different business units.  

NFV is different than SDN.  Running low-bandwidth, high-touch network services on COTS is going to happen.  It happened with VoIP and its related functions and signaling.  For many customers and services we are seeing servers support enough BW to take the place of firewalls and load balancers.   Cisco is embracing NFV, they announced the ASAv the same time as ACI and it's not dependent on ACI.  

Apart from controlling service chaining, the higher speed aggregation and core networks is where SDN comes into play.   At this point Cisco basically re-invented Juniper's QFabric architecture although using an open standard as the switch to switch tunneling mechanism in VXLAN (which came from VMWare/Ncira NSX software overlays they disparage in their ACI presentations) instead of something wholly proprietary.     

The Insieme piece is really being able to communicate application-level data from the switches to the controller so the controller can make intelligent decisions.  The controller has to know where applications live on the network so it's important the provisioning steps run through it. They are using the IS-IS IGP protocol to communicate topology information, so in the end the switches are still running a distributed IP control plane.   I'm not sure how the ACI controller creates static paths across the fabric, VXLAN runs at Layer3 so maybe static routes?  :)    

 The reality is in the leaf/spine datacenter architecture the whole setup is supposed to be non-blocking with 1 hop between endpoints in a single-tier setup.   There is nowhere to reroute traffic... So really the intelligence is in where applications are provisioned and where they are moved when congestion occurs.   Will be interesting to see how everything plays out.

I will agree with Cisco using a "baremetal" switch with a light control plane doesn't really save any money.   The reality is Arista, Juniper, and Cisco just came out with switches using the same merchant silicon as the "baremetal" switches and they aren't that much more expensive.   Customers don't want unproven control plane running their network.  

User Rank: Light Sabre
11/8/2013 | 1:09:12 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
Luis, excellent post. However, I believe if you look at other regions such as North America and Europe, the telco's do have the technical skills to not only ask the right questions, but also write the RFIs that define the requirements on a more granular level.

Luiz Lourenco
Luiz Lourenco,
User Rank: Lightning
11/8/2013 | 12:48:05 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
Ray, your question "even if SDN and NFV and open source is the answer, do the network operators have the know-how to ask all the right questions?" is right to the point! At least in the context of Latin America, where I live, I'm not aware of any operator who has invested heavily on technical training and high level knowledge aquisition, management and sharing for their employees. All carriers have traditionally depended on the vendors to design, implement and, sometimes, even manage their networks, proposing solutions, planning expansions, etc. Cisco has a clear advantage in this context.

This is critical at this moment when such fundamental decisions must be made about the future of their plants. Working for one of the top telecom vendors in the world, I see everyday the many difficulties and doubts my customers have about what technology to choose and more often than not they come to us to ask for help and advice. Of course the same happens with other vendors and the result is that the operators' networks are a battle field where each manufacturer tries to impose their visions and approaches always aiming at defending and increasing their market share.

Like many other technology standards wars we have seen in the past, the winner will hardly be the best technical solution but the most feasible business model and far away from the one-size-fits-all approach, what may lead to several different implementations - vendor-specific, purely open and hybrid - on a case-by-case basis. At the end what matters is that all networks and devices shall integrate and interact seamlessly, at the lowest possible cost. Better the devil you know?
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/8/2013 | 10:38:11 AM
A question of balance
It seems to me a question about finding the right balance between network functions running on generic servers versus purpose-built network appliances. That balance will shift to servers as generic processor technology is enhanced with hardware-based acceleration for networking functions, and it will shift faster in the control and management plane than in the data plane.

It'll take time to prove out the various use cases and see where it will make business sense. With network appliances the cost of the software is mostly subsidized by the hardware, which may make appliances seem more expensive than generic server hardware. But if you unbundle the software that gap may actually be a lot smaller than you'd think, and it will require additional integration and validation to fit in a custom environment.

At the end of the day you still need to have something that is reliable, can be reproduced at a large scale and is cost competitive with alternatives.
User Rank: Blogger
11/7/2013 | 7:59:55 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
Well, I think 2012 was the year the operators said "enough is enough", 2013 is the year in which they have said "yeah, right, enough is enough, but we need to figure out what enough is" and 2014 will be the year in which they will suggest what enough is and then see which financial model fits best with the money the CFO gives them. because there's always the financial criterion, right?

For sure, things have changed and the pendulum has, at least temporarily, swung in favor of carrier-power. But do they have the wherewithall to do anything about it? That SDN/NFV might not be the silver bullet some think is already recognised by those involved in the ETSI NFV group, and has been from day 1.

SO the other big question is -- even if SDN and NFV and open source is the answer, do the network operators have the know-how to ask all the right questions? 

For me, this all boils down to whether the operators understand how the potential new networks might work. And if they're not confidnet in that, then it'll be a case of 'better the devil you know'...
User Rank: Blogger
11/7/2013 | 7:55:52 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs
Well, I think 2012 was the year the operators said "enough is enough", 2013 is the year in which they have said "yeah, right, enough is enough, but we need to figure out what enough is" and 2014 will be the year in which they will suggest what enough is and then see which financial model fits best with the money the CFO gives them. because there's always the financial criterion, right?

For sure, things have changed and the pendulum has, at least temporarily, swung in favor of carrier-power. But do they have the wherewithall to do anything about it? That SDN/NFV might not be the silver bullet some think is already recognised by those involved in the ETSI NFV group, and has been from day 1.

SO the other big question is -- even if SDN and NFV and open source is the answer, do the network operators have the know-how to ask all the right questions? 

For me, this all boils down to whether the operators understand how the potential new networks might work. And if they're not confidnet in that, then it'll be a case of 'better the devil you know'...
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/7/2013 | 2:49:40 PM
Re: This reminds me of IMS and SBCs

Agreed. I think one day we will look back at 2013 as the year operators decided enough is enough and they needed to create the template for how they will evolve their networks.

And I think because of that, openness will be critical. The stakes are high for the incumbent vendors since I don't think the largest operators will continue to accept the trusty proprietary/ semi-open / premium model, when there a lots of other vendors willing to deliver lower cost open solutions. It only takes one large operator to prove this later model will work to open the floodgates.

It's not a great model for the vendors who are trying to balance customer demands with shareholder expectations, but it is for the operators, if they play their cards right.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
More Blogs from Shades of Ray
Ericsson's CTO Ulf Ewaldsson adds strategy to his existing responsibility for technology at the Swedish vendor, which has yet to appoint a new permanent CEO.
Senator Ted Cruz doesn't want Obama to 'give away the Internet' – well, OK, but…
Google and Box have struck a relationship that might baffle those with a legacy view of the world.
IBC starts this week in the Netherlands, or is it Holland? It's certainly being supported by the Dutch.
The social media giant's solar-powered Aquila drone, designed to provide Internet access to remote locations, has taken to the skies – but why?
Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
Wednesday, October 5, 1:00PM EDT
Gigabit & Smart Cities
Joe Kochan, COO & Co-Founder, US Ignite
Friday, October 7, 1:00PM EDT
Gigabit & DOCSIS 3.1
Ty Pearman, Director, Access Architecture, Comcast
Wednesday, October 19, 1:00PM EDT
Securing a Virtual World
Rita Marty, Executive Director, Mobility and Cloud Security, Chief Security Office, AT&T
Friday, October 21, 1:00PM EDT
Security: Evolving the Data Center
Rasool Kareem Irfan, Head, Telecom & Infrastructure Security Practice, Tata Communications Transformation Services Ltd (TCTS)
in association with:
From The Founder
Light Reading today starts a new voyage as part of a larger Enterprise.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Documentaries
From Philly, With Love

9|30|16   |     |   (5) comments

Join Alan Breznick, cable's answer to the Italian Stallion, as he runs through the highlights of SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, lumbers along in Rocky Balboa's footsteps and searches for the perfect Philadelphia cheesesteak.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: SD-WAN Customers Looking for Value Not Cost Savings

9|30|16   |   5:31   |   (0) comments

At NFV & Carrier SDN in Denver, CenturyLink's Eric Nowak told Light Reading that when customers launch SD-WAN, they aren't necessary looking to save money, but instead they are looking for more value from what they're spending. He also shared some unique case studies and lessons learned from launching SD-WAN services.
LRTV Custom TV
Flexible Deployment Approaches for the Gigabit Services Evolution

9|29|16   |     |   (0) comments

For many operators, the gigabit evolution begins with the shift from DOCSIS 3.0 to DOCSIS 3.1. But that move represents a change not only in the protocol itself, but in the approach to architecting their entire DOCSIS delivery chain -- from the headend to the outside plant and home gateway components.

Jonathan Ruff, senior director of global technical ...

LRTV Interviews
Level 3 VP: Enterprises Need More for Less

9|29|16   |   05:27   |   (0) comments

Andrew Dugan, Level 3 group vice president of global technology and IT, says enterprises need more bandwidth and they need it faster and with greater security, but they want to spend less, if possible. They are looking to carriers to reduce their network complexity and help protect them from cyberattacks as well.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: SDN/NFV Pose New Interconnection Possibilities

9|28|16   |   04:37   |   (0) comments

Network operators should develop new APIs and business processes for reselling virtual assets to each other, says CenturyLink's Bill Walker. That will enable them to build digital business portfolios that help them avoid becoming commodity transport providers.
LRTV Interviews
Level 3: Overcoming Terror of Being Supplier, Integrator & Developer

9|28|16   |     |   (0) comments

At Light Reading's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver, Travis Ewert of Level 3 Communications said there is terror in becoming supplier, integrator and developer, but it can be overcome and be cost effective.
LRTV Custom TV
Introducing IoT World News

9|27|16   |   01:43   |   (0) comments

Self-driving cars, medical sensors, smart cities... and refrigerators. In order to address the huge scope of IoT, KNect365 has created a unique online community that will help businesses to understand and monetize the opportunities that live within the IoT market. We look forward to welcoming you to IoT World News -- your gateway to a better connected future.
LRTV Interviews
AT&T: Reusable Functions Next NFV Key

9|27|16   |   06:03   |   (0) comments

The next generation of NFV has to break functions down into reusable software chunks, making everything much more cloud-like.
LRTV Interviews
Masergy on Security: Attackers Gaining Upper Hand

9|27|16   |   5:10   |   (2) comments

At Light Reading's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver, Ray Watson, vice president of Global Technology at Masergy, says that because of the growth in virtualization, the threat landscape is shifting in favor of the attackers. As a result, service providers need to think beyond just defending the perimeter and take a more holistic approach to security.
LRTV Interviews
Verizon Takes Next Step on Biz Virtualization Journey

9|26|16   |   4:38   |   (2) comments

At September's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver, Light Reading sat down with Victoria Lonker, director of Product and New Business Innovation at Verizon, to chat about where the carrier is with delivering virtualized services to business customers.
LRTV Interviews
Global Services: The $40B Face-Off

9|26|16   |   05:53   |   (1) comment

More service providers than ever before are battling it out to win a slice of what is now a $40 billion global communications services pie, explains Ovum Principal Analyst David Molony.
LRTV Documentaries
MEC Congress: The Key Takeaways

9|22|16   |   03:25   |   (3) comments

Three key takeaways from the Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) Congress in Munich, Germany.
Upcoming Live Events
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 1, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
AT&T CEO Backs Black Lives Matter
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 9/30/2016
Eurobites: Telefónica Taps Juniper for Network Security
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 9/26/2016
Powell Kills the Cable Show
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 9/29/2016
Telstra Sees Quadrupled Data Capacity by 2020
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 9/28/2016
From Philly, With Love
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 9/30/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Light Reading CEO Steve Saunders and UXP Systems CEO Gemini Waghmare discuss the strategic importance of digital identity for operators in the midst of transformation.
Join us for an in-depth interview between Steve Saunders of Light Reading and Alexis Black Bjorlin of Intel as they discuss the release of the company's Silicon Photonics platform, its performance, long-term prospects, customer expectations and much more.
Animals with Phones
There's Nothing Like Missing a Full Minute of Pokémon Go Click Here
Live Digital Audio

A vital part of increasing the number of women in comms is transforming the ways companies can support and empower women. While progressive company policies that support both men and women in achieving work-life balance are a step in the right direction, creating a company culture that supports those policies can at times be more challenging.

During this show, we'll talk to Lynn Comp, Senior Director of Industry and Sales Enabling (ISE) in the Network Platforms Group at Intel, about why those challenges exist and how companies can overcome them. She'll provide insight into how Intel has worked to create a culture that supports work-life balance, and provide steps and guidance for other companies wishing to do the same. We will also leave plenty of time to get your questions answered live on the air.