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Cisco Extends Its SDN & Cloud Plans

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto

Cisco Systems Inc. is getting closer to making its software-defined networking (SDN) plans a reality, with a set of announcements Monday that also extend the company's cloud-computing capabilities.

A couple of forces are at work here. Cisco is determined to take control of the SDN transition, saying the future is going to be about network programmability through application programming interfaces (APIs).

And both there and on the cloud side, new capabilities are fueling the indirect war between Cisco and VMware Inc. While they're trying to stay partners and are continuing to support their VCE joint venture, they're also both aiming for a starring role in future networks that blend physical and virtual elements.

Cisco's announcements Monday include a new fixed-configuration switch, the Nexus 6000, that houses up to 96 40Gbit/s ports. But that's not the most interesting part.

SDN gets closer
Cisco says it's ready to make good on the Open Network Environment (ONE), the SDN master plan it announced last June. (See Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN.)

The products still aren't shipping, and Cisco is being vague about when they'll be available -- "first half of 2013" is the availability timeline for most items including:

  • An SDN controller;
  • Support for onePK, Cisco's web of APIs for programming the network, on the ISR G2, ASR 1000 and Nexus 3000 routers/switches; and,
  • OpenFlow support on at least the Nexus 3000.

The SDN controller, more properly called the Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) Software Controller, would talk to routers and switches through a protocol such as OpenFlow. It's going to be central to Cisco's SDN plans, with many product lines eventually adding applications to take advantage of it, says Omar Sultan, Cisco's senior manager of emerging technologies.

Part of what's new is that Cisco is adding applications to the controller.

The first one announced had been the ability to partition the network, creating slices that have different switching rules, for example. Now, Cisco is also saying it will add network monitoring, a commonly discussed SDN feature that gives operators a deeper look at what's happening in the network.

Another controller application will be customized forwarding, where switches would make forwarding decisions based on factors such as low-latency requirements. But again: None of this is available just yet; it's coming in the next few months, Cisco says.

Cisco is also going to add OpenFlow support to more of its systems, starting with the Nexus 3000 line for sure, and possibly the Catalyst 3000 line. (Cisco describes the latter as being in the proof-of-concept phase.)

Other product lines with OpenFlow in the proof-of-concept stage include the Catalyst 3000, the Nexus 7000, the ASR 9000 (the main boxes for the data-center core and the service-provider edge) and the old-as-the-hills Catalyst 6500.

But like most vendors right now, Cisco is emphasizing that protocols besides OpenFlow will need to be supported as well.

Connecting clouds
The part of the announcement that's a little more radical is the Nexus 1000V InterCloud, a platform for connecting clouds and allowing them to tap each other's resources.

It's a way for a service provider to extend its cloud (and associated items including policy and security) down into the enterprise, creating a new type of hosted service, Sultan says.

The idea works in the other direction too -- an enterprise's network can be extended into a service provider's cloud, making the cloud behave like an extension of the enterprise.

In either case, both networks would run under one network management system and one set of policy rules.

Both cases work towards the hybrid cloud that most equipment vendors believe will become the norm. The idea is that most enterprises will employ some combination of a cloud that's their own (whether internally housed or run by a hosting company) and publicly available clouds. It seems useful to have those clouds running under the same network management and apply the same policies across both clouds.

The 1000V InterCloud can run on Nexus 1000V virtual switches, but it's not dependent on any particular type of hardware; as with virtual switches, what matters is the hypervisor. The 1000V available to work with VMware and Microsoft Corp. hypervisor environments at first. Support for the KVM open-source hypervisor is still in development, Sultan says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
2/5/2013 | 9:58:39 PM
re: Cisco Extends Its SDN & Cloud Plans
Current Northbound API support is-ábased on the use case requriements-áthat early adopter customers have expressed as thier current priorities. The ONE Controller is also extensible so that as use case requirements expand, corresponding Northbound API support requirements can also-áexpand-áwhile-ámaintaining-áan update methodology to the software rather than a rip and replace oriented approach.
Craig Matsumoto
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/4/2013 | 5:15:24 PM
re: Cisco Extends Its SDN & Cloud Plans
For the northbound interface... Cisco's Software Controller will ship with Java and RESTful APIs, but Cisco is also saying it'll support whatever other standards or cenventions develop -- basically, like everyone else, Cisco is saying "whatever" to the northbound interface.

"Whatever" might actually be a good enough answer in the long run -- by which I mean, there might be 6 or 7 major alternatives that all have to be supported.-á Or is there a better way, some way to standardize the northbound interface?-á My understanding is that the requirements are too widespread for that, but I'd be curious whether that's changing.-á
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