Cisco Links SDN & Policy
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has devised a plan to take advantage of software-defined networking (SDN) that involves bringing service providers closer to the information that's needed for smart policy decisions.
It's all about taking advantage of the information that's already in the network -- information that's not being put to good use, said David Ward, CTO and chief architect of Cisco's service provider divison, at the recent Open Networking Summit.
Take enterprise applications. "You see odd or kind-of weak attempts at trying to divine what the network is doing," Ward said in an interview with Light Reading. "We can provide that directly into those really big development platforms that are out there. Our strength is being able to get that data out and make it available."
In other words, Ward believes Cisco can utilize SDN to unlock network information that can then be put to use in policy, authentication or quality of service applications.
There's a lot of skepticism about whether SDN and Cisco can get along. SDN is all about separating network management from network equipment. That could mean turning routers into dumber, programmable boxes controlled by an outside source, thus commoditizing Cisco's most important product lines.
Naturally, Cisco doesn't share that view. "I absolutely do not see our platforms getting commoditized," Ward said. "We're looking at more interfaces to them. We're looking at more functionality."
Ward has been around the block. A former IOS XR architect, he rejoined Cisco late in 2011 after working at Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) for a time and he has dozens of routing protocols under his belt. He'll often finish a sentence by tacking on a tirade about why a certain protocol did or didn't succeed, or about how something being tried today is so similar to a particular standard from years ago. (See Cisco Adds Another Juniper Exec.)
The current round of SDN, combined with the needs of mobile networks and video, prompted him to rethink a few things. Ward gave a talk at ONS that started with him describing an epiphany he'd had -- that two of the router tenets that have been the foundation of the Internet no longer need to hold true.
Ward turned next to the capabilities of the network, posing the question: Just what can service providers do with SDN?
To answer that, he looked at what resources SDN can tap -- network state, in particular.
He described a feedback loop that's yet to be fully exploited, created by analytics, policy and the network. That's where Cisco can put SDN to use, he said.
For service providers, SDN won't be about programming features into the network, Ward thinks, because that would open too many security and reliability questions. Service-provider SDN will be more about "the ability to integrate these different mechanisms of orchestration to put together new services," he told Light Reading after his talk.
He sees this direction being particularly useful for mobile operators. "They have ways of doing content. They have ways of getting your mobile phone onto the network. They have ways of doing transcoding and encoding and address management. They'll need a way to just pull it together, such that the policy you need for getting the right video with the right transcoding onto your mobile phone can be actually put into the network."
So, Ward's job will involve bringing Cisco into the SDN world. Cisco has also funded a spin-in called Insieme that's going to work in this area, and Ward said it's all part of one unified SDN strategy that Cisco has worked out. Insieme will craft its strategy as part of that team, not as an all-star outsider, he said. (See Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan.)
— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading