Light Reading

Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto
6/26/2013
50%
50%

Cisco Systems Inc. revealed the vision, but not the products, behind its Insieme Networks Inc. spin-in on Wednesday morning.

It's an application-minded data-center fabric, one that's built for new cloud-networking trends and the imminent rise of software-defined networking (SDN). And of course it's got an Insieme-developed ASIC at its heart.

Separately, Cisco announced a less radical data-center fabric, based on a technology called Dynamic Fabric Automation (DFA), that's meant to be more of an upgrade to today's fabrics. It's a more conservative approach but one that Cisco says aggressively flattens and simplifies the data center. Some customers will favor that approach, so DFA shouldn't be thought of as a place-holder for Insieme, Cisco officials said.

(Side note: In baseball, "DFA" means "designated for assignment" -- a status assigned to a player that a team intends to get rid of within 10 days.)

The Insieme fabric will be available later this year. What's it made of? We don't know yet; Cisco only talked "vision" in Wednesday's press conference and didn't specify any Insieme products. However, the Nexus 7700, a big honkin' 100Gbit/s switch that also got announced Wednesday, will be usable inside the Insieme architecture, Cisco officals said.

The Insieme vision
Cisco revealed Insieme, or the idea of it, during its Cisco Live! customer event, being held in Orlando, Fla., this year. The press got an early preview at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time that featured Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of Insieme.

Insieme presents what Cisco calls an Application-Centric Infrastructure, one where the data center responds automatically to the needs of applications, doing things like moving virtual machines out of congested areas and migrating the necessary security and policy enforcement with them.

That's actually a goal of most SDN architectures. Cisco emphasized its use of an Insieme-developed ASIC, however, constrasting it with architectures relying on merchant chips from the likes of Broadcom Corp. -- a dig at Arista Networks Inc. and also at most other SDN architectures.

Jiandani described merchant-chip boxes as being hampered by the pace of the chips, which she said take three years between major generational shifts. The next generation of any ASIC also takes years, but Cisco's implication is that it's always ahead of the merchant-chip curve.

The hardware is important because network virtualization that's done in software will add complexity rather than reduce it, Jiandani claimed.

Insieme's ASIC purportedly will allow any type of encapsulation for moving virtual machines, for instance. There are multiple, competing protocols for doing this -- VXLAN from VMware Inc. and NVGRE from Microsoft Corp., for instance -- and Insieme's chip will be able to apply combinations of them at will.

Some implementations require external gateways to do something like that. Jiandani disparagingly referred to this as the "Christmas-tree baggage" required by merchant chips.

Insieme is also going to use some merchant chips, but only for basic functions, "rear-view mirror" types of tasks, as Jiandani put it. Jiandani also stressed that Insieme takes a view of the network as a whole -- what Cisco is calling a "system" view -- rather than working box-by-box. "There is nothing that is bringing a whole system together in these [other] models," she said.

Designated data-center fabric
Insieme specifics weren't disclosed. Cisco did go into more detail about the DFA, its more conventional fabric.

It's a revamp of the concepts in today's data-center fabrics, including the Juniper Networks Inc. QFabric. David Yen, the executive who once touted QFabric's superiority, is now a senior vice president at Cisco and was the one who introduced DFA in Wednesday's press conference.

The popular way to build a data center is in a leaf/spine architecture -- the leaves being Layer 2 switches at the top of each equipment rack, connected through a Layer 3 spine that's essentially the data-center core. Cisco is bringing the Layer 3 part down to the leaf nodes, creating a distributed gateway across the physical network edge.

DFA also connects every leaf node to every spine switch, so that no two virtual machines are more than two network hops apart. That adds predictability to so-called east/west traffic -- the communication between virtual machines that's causing the need for so many data-center changes in the first place.

DFA is due to be available in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Cisco did announce one specific product: the Nexus 7700 data-center switch, due to ship in July (i.e., in a couple of weeks).

It improves on the Nexus 7000 in raw numbers. The 7700 will have line cards that carry ten 100Gbit/s ports apiece, well more than the four ports that most other switches and routers are just starting to achieve. The 7000 is getting an upgrade, too, with six-port 100Gbit/s cards coming soom.

Arista has bragged about getting to 12 100Gbit/s ports per card, using on-board optics. Cisco didn't specify how it's getting to 10 ports. (See Arista's On-Board Optics Boost 100G Density.)

All told, the 18-slot version of the 7700, called the Nexus 7718, will be able to support 192 100Gbit/s ports or 384 40Gbit/s ports.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

(9)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Craig Matsumoto
50%
50%
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/3/2013 | 6:14:48 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
Yes, TiMetra is quite different. Good team, though, by all accounts - Insieme did well to recruit you guys. That's interesting to know - thanks, Todd.
Todd Craw
50%
50%
Todd Craw,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/3/2013 | 4:36:45 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
The chief scientist and co-founder of Insieme is former TiMetra and there are several others of us there as well. Although, I don't think that really has anything to do with it. TiMetra was quite different and still is.
Craig Matsumoto
50%
50%
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/27/2013 | 5:32:51 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
Didn't catch the "affinities" reference in Cisco's talks -- that's pretty funny. (For those who don't know: "affinity" is the SDN word that Plexxi's been using.)

The whole application-aware thing certainly didn't originate with Cisco. You can probably trace it all the way back to TiMetra in, what, 2003? Part of their mission was to have services originate in the router/switch.

Thanks, Mike.
Craig Matsumoto
50%
50%
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/27/2013 | 5:30:11 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
Yes, that will be interesting. Insieme swears it'll be using ASICs, but I'll be curious to what extent they rely on Broadcom (or whoever's) chips.

It sounds like most of the mundane Layer 2 work will be done on merchant chips.... which, really, isn't a bad idea. I understand the differentiation problem noted by nuker, below, but at this point, there's a certain amount of hubris involved in refusing to use those chips.
nuker
50%
50%
nuker,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/27/2013 | 1:29:24 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
Makes one wonder. What is the difference between them, Arista, Cumulus ....
StartUpGuy1
50%
50%
StartUpGuy1,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/27/2013 | 12:51:11 AM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
Will be interesting to see with the Insieme box to see if it has the Cisco ASIC in it. The scuttlebutt is that they are using the Broadcomm Trident 2 because their own asic is not working...
@mbushong
50%
50%
@mbushong,
User Rank: Moderator
6/26/2013 | 7:57:36 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
As a Cisco competitor, it is both thrilling and maddening to see them adopt an application-centric approach. Chambers tossing out references to application affinities was a bittersweet moment for I suspect all of us at Plexxi.

I do like their central thesis though - that applications (and by extension application experience) are the most important things. It starts to draw a clear line between Cisco and VMWare. VMW has said that bandwidth is the solution to everything, while Cisco is saying that intelligence is the answer.

As with everything, I think the answer is somewhere in between, but at least we are starting to see different strategies to tackle similar problems. I did write my own take on this topic today as well for reference: http://www.plexxi.com/2013/06/...

-Mike Bushong

Plexxi
Craig Matsumoto
50%
50%
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/26/2013 | 3:54:10 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
So, about Insieme itself... no really big surprises, especially not the proud ASIC proclamations. A lot of the SDN/Insieme vision sounds very much like what everybody else wants to see the data center do.

The ASIC does sound like it's got some usefulness -- especially that part about being able to mix protocols. (Although... if I go back through old notes, will I find that on the roadmaps of merchant chip vendors? I think I might, but I'm not sure offhand.)

I'm glad I didn't miss the press conference, but was it worth a 5:30 a.m. (Pacific) wake-up call? Hm...
Craig Matsumoto
50%
50%
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/26/2013 | 3:51:36 PM
re: Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN
I took a linguistic shortcut -- the new fabric is not *called* "DFA," that's just a technology that the fabric incorporates. The new fabric is called.... well, I guess it's just the latest version of the Cisco Unified Fabric.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Ericsson's Hyperscale Datacenter System (HDS) 8000, featuring Intel's Rack Scale Architecture, caused a stir when it was announced at MWC 2015. For more on this revolutionary product, join me on Thursday, April 30 at 12:00 p.m. EST for a Super Webinar event, A New Hardware Paradigm for the Telco Data Center.
LRTV Documentaries
CableLabs' Clarke Updates Cable Virtualization

4|23|15   |   05:41   |   (1) comment


Former BT exec now leading CableLabs' NFV and SDN efforts explains key role of open source and updates efforts to virtualize the home network.
LRTV Interviews
Ericsson's CTO Talks Transformation: Pt. II

4|23|15   |   08:19   |   (1) comment


In the second installment of an in-depth two-part interview, Ericsson's CTO Ulf Ewaldsson talks to Light Reading CEO and founder Steve Saunders about cultural change, network slicing and technology advances.
LRTV Interviews
Ericsson's CTO Talks Transformation: Pt. I

4|23|15   |   09:27   |   (3) comments


In the first installment of an in-depth two-part interview, Ericsson's CTO Ulf Ewaldsson talks to Light Reading CEO and founder Steve Saunders about the incredible transformation underway in the communications networking industry.
LRTV Documentaries
LTE Paves the Way for the 5G Revolution

4|20|15   |   4:20   |   (0) comments


Håkan Andersson, head of 5G product strategy of the Radio Business Unit at Ericsson, discusses the role of LTE, the US and other industry verticals in building a true 5G ecosystem.
LRTV Documentaries
The 3GPP's Road to 5G Standardization

4|17|15   |   4:43   |   (0) comments


Satoshi Nagata, chairman of the 3GPP's TSG-RAN group and a manager at NTT Docomo, explains the standardization process for 5G, as well as the biggest challenges and opportunities.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu CTO Makes the Case for a New 5G Air Interface

4|16|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Michael Peeters, CTO of wireless at Alcatel-Lucent, explains why 5G will require a new air interface to meet its diverse performance targets.
LRTV Documentaries
AlcaLu + Nokia: The New Uber-Vendor

4|15|15   |   2:42   |   (4) comments


Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown discusses the technological and competitive opportunities and challenges if a merger between Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia comes to pass.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Data Center Power Play

4|15|15   |   6:22   |   (0) comments


Huawei has developed industry-leading energy efficiency capabilities for its indoor and outdoor data center solutions, explains Dr. Fang Liangzhou, vice president of Huawei's Network Energy product Line.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei’s Routers, Switches Get the Green Mark

4|15|15   |   2:02   |   (0) comments


TUV Rheinland's Frank Dudley explains how Huawei's routers and switches have been successfully tested by energy efficiency experts and have gained Green Mark Certification.
LRTV Documentaries
A Finn, a Frenchman & a Guy From New Jersey Walk Into a Merger...

4|15|15   |   3:17   |   (0) comments


Stop us if you've heard this one before... Light Reading CEO Founder & CEO Steve Saunders weighs in on the technical and cultural implications of a Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent merger.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Accounting for Better Solutions

4|10|15   |   02:31   |   (1) comment


Murad Yousuf, CTO at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Finance (Dept. of Zakat & Income Tax), talks about the benefits of deploying router technology from Huawei.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
What's in Store for Huawei & DataCore?

4|10|15   |   05:44   |   (0) comments


At the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany, George Teixeira, CEO of software-defined storage (SDS) specialist DataCore Software, explains why he has just signed a partnership agreement with Huawei Technologies.
Upcoming Live Events
May 6, 2015, Georgia World Congress, Atlanta, GA
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 6, 2015, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
November 11-12, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
In its latest survey covering network operators' plans and strategies for ICT transformation, Heavy Reading asked telecom operators worldwide to identify the most important goals and objectives for their ICT transformation initiatives. Heavy Reading also asked operators about the importance of a "digital first" strategy, which enables customers to complete an interaction across different digital channels, such as web and mobile self-service and social media.
Hot Topics
Comcast Formally Ends Its Bid for TWC
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/24/2015
What if the Comcast Merger Fails?
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/20/2015
Google's WiFi-First Mobile Service 'Fi' Is Here
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 4/22/2015
Comcast Merger May Hinge on Hulu
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 4/22/2015
Google Ready to Release Thousands of Loons
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 4/20/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Many leading communications companies can claim to have undergone significant periods of reinvention during their histories, but none have been through more major ...
Data Center Interconnect, or DCI, is one of the hottest sectors in telecom currently. Since coming back to Light Reading last year, prodigal-son style, I've ...
Cats with Phones
Learning Curve Click Here
Pierre could never remember how to use Excel.
Latest Comment