Light Reading

Cisco Ships Its SDN Architecture -- Almost

Mitch Wagner
7/29/2014
50%
50%

After talking it up since November 2013, Cisco is this week set to ship its version of SDN, the Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) announced ACI late last year as its response to the growing SDN movement, which, although still in its infancy, represents an existential threat to Cisco's business model due to its inherent reliance on white box switches. (See Cisco's ACI Gets Physical With SDN.)

ACI is Cisco's take on SDN. So what exactly is it? Thomas Schiebe, Cisco director of product management, reviewed ACI's components for Light Reading.

The first part of ACI is the Network Profile. Network Profiles are network configuration templates for applications and other workloads, as well as groups, security rules, and infrastructure. Using Profiles, the network is configured around behavior, rather than set rules created around the equipment's capabilities. It's a DevOps way of looking at the network, Schiebe says.

The second component is the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), which is a database for profiles. Unlike an OpenFlow controller, the APIC doesn't control the switch directly; rather, it pushes policies out to switches, which control themselves. The APIC describes desired results, which the switch produces by controlling its own behavior.

The third component is the equipment: Nexus switches and other devices, as well as appliances such as firewalls and load balancers that are managed through the APIC.

So is ACI really part of the SDN revolution? Yes, says Schiebe. "SDN is an amorphous term. To me, SDN means 'software-defined,' not 'software-only.' We need to get away from box-by-box configuration to policy-defined configuration," he says.

And now ACI is available -- almost. Customers have been able to order ACI components since July 1, and they're scheduled to ship Thursday.

The APIC is available as software running on a Cisco UCS C-Series x86 rack server. Cisco decided to ship the software as an appliance to guarantee a good out-of-box experience, testing all dependencies and simplifying deployments, Schiebe says.

Cisco also offers fixed and modular spine switches, the Nexus 9446PQ and 9509, for up to 288 ports and 40 GBit/s per chassis, that support ACI.

And Cisco is offering several Nexus 9300-series leaf and top-of-rack switches, shipping since March, now available with ACI software in addition to the vendor's operating system, IOS.

Hardware pricing is the same for ACI as it is for IOS. Software licensing is per leaf switch, no matter what kind or number of servers the customer has attached to each switch. Cisco wants to avoid pricing uncertainty for customers with multiple virtual machines or other usage-based models. "We made pricing predictable and attractive so customers don't have to get scared about SDN pricing or traffic pricing," Schiebe says.

Pricing is $250,000 for a starter bundle with everything needed to set up a small fabric.


Get the lowdown on SDN at Light Reading's dedicated SDN content channel.


Cisco anticipates several use cases for the starter bundle: Some users will want a proof-of-concept or lab deployment. Others will use the bundle for a converged infrastructure, connecting the fabric to racks of pooled storage and compute. With ACI, users can power an entire data center, albeit a small one. And users can use the starter kit to extend ACI policy management to an existing infrastructure, to gradually make the transition to ACI,

Pure-play SDN advocates may well disagree with Cisco's claim that ACI is SDN. Companies including Big Switch Networks , Cumulus, and Pica8 Inc. are founded on running OpenFlow controllers on commodity hardware. That's also the basis of the networking strategies espoused by Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), and Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL). (See The Three Faces of SDN, Cisco & VMware Are Apple & Google of SDN, Big Switch Intros Flagship Big Cloud Fabric – At Last, HP Debuts SDN Management Software, Switches, and Open Season: Dell Taps Into Big Switch.)

Cisco is betting that it can deliver customers all the benefits of SDN without divorcing carriers and enterprises from Cisco's proprietary hardware. And Cisco has so much market share and momentum that it can succeed, so long as it maintains a high level of product and service quality. (See Cisco Asks the Killer SDN Question.)

In other words, Cisco could well win this bet as long as it doesn't screw up.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.

(6)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/30/2014 | 5:29:13 PM
Re: Same old, same old
With the products due to ship tomorrow, I don't think there's much wiggle room. 
DOShea
50%
50%
DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
7/30/2014 | 4:56:07 PM
Re: Same old, same old
If they ship it one time, that helps, too. I think there were some folks out there betting that after annoucement last fall, Cisco was going to change its plans or push out its schedule, but no such luck.
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/29/2014 | 9:03:23 PM
Re: Same old, same old
Cisco is betting that customers will value Cisco more than they want to separate the control and forwarding plane. It's a good bet. 
tscheibe951
50%
50%
tscheibe951,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/29/2014 | 9:00:25 PM
Re: Same old, same old
There is no separation of control/ forwarding plane - both are on the switch. The APIC pushes policies (network profiles) to the switch and translation into concrete configs for switch control/forwarding plane happens locally. A declarative model.

One of the big boys (Google) is using the same approach for Container VMs in GCE.

http://www.enterprisetech.com/2014/05/28/google-runs-software-containers/
DHagar
100%
0%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 6:55:28 PM
Re: Same Old, Same Old
@sammasud, it certainly offers an "inhibited" SDN at a minimum.  I fully agree, it is a self-serving version.  But, as you and Mitch comment, they probably have the market standing to pull their version off as long as they provide excellent service.

There is, however, the opportunity for someone to truly develop SDN solutions that demonstrate the full capabilities that Cisco is not using.  It will be interesting to watch.
sam masud
100%
0%
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 4:50:47 PM
Same old, same old
If APIC pushes polices out to the switches, then it seems to me this is not a separation of the control/forwarding planes. Seems like while the big boys, Facebook, Amazon, etc., have one vision for building networks, Cisco's response is to continue protecting its turf the old-fashioned way. Cisco has the money and time to get on the bandwagon, but old habits are proving hard to break.

Still, it won't matter whether Cisco fully embraces SDN--provided it can offer a solution that has better capex/opex than what SDN promises to deliver.

 
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Anshul Sadana answers questions from Steve Saunders, Light Reading's founder and CEO, about Arista's CloudVision, a global cloud network controller for workload orchestration and workflow automation delivering a turnkey solution for cloud networking.
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei ONS Product Demo

8|3|15   |   6:01   |   (0) comments


Huawei shows at Open Networking Summit 2015 in Santa Clara how its SDN and NFV solutions embrace openness.
LRTV Custom TV
End-User or Enterprise Benefits to the New IP

7|30|15   |   04:27   |   (1) comment


Andrew Coward discusses what the New IP means to end users or enterprise customers. He explains compelling reasons, including how every customer can get their own network, from the transformation to the New IP.
LRTV Custom TV
Network Visibility & the New IP

7|30|15   |   02:23   |   (0) comments


Mukund Srigopal provides an explanation of what network visibility is and how it is essential as service providers transition to the New IP. In addition, the importance of the network packet broker is discussed.
Between the CEOs
Video Exclusive With Basil Alwan, Alcatel-Lucent

7|24|15   |   26:44   |   (5) comments


Basil Alwan, President of IP Routing & Transport at Alcatel-Lucent, discusses virtualization, cultural challenges, the capex crunch and more with Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders.
LRTV Custom TV
VDF: Enable the Financial With Mobile Money

7|20|15   |   06:53   |   (0) comments


Ian Ravenscroft discusses how operators can expand to occupy the entire digital services value chain through service innovation.
LRTV Custom TV
Telefónica on OSS Transformation

7|20|15   |   06:01   |   (0) comments


Jose Gonzales discusses the details of Telefónica's operation transformation program.
LRTV Custom TV
Judi Achmadi on Huawei's Cloud Storage Solution

7|20|15   |   03:33   |   (0) comments


Judi discusses the key business goals of TelekomSigma's public cloud service and how Huawei's solution helps them address challenges.
LRTV Custom TV
KPN Enlightening Digital Business & IT Transformation

7|20|15   |   06:19   |   (0) comments


Rob de Beer discusses the changes that operators need to make with service innovation now coming from the Internet world.
LRTV Custom TV
Stratus Telco-Grade Cloud Solutions & NFV

7|20|15   |   07:34   |   (0) comments


Ali Kafel from Stratus Technologies addresses high-availability concerns within the telco industry with a solution that enables telcos to provide high-availability and stateful fault-tolerance using a software-based approach.
LRTV Documentaries
The Six Million Dollar Business Man

7|20|15   |   01:52   |   (0) comments


Steve Saunders, publisher. A man barely alive after an acquisition malfunction imploded the company he founded. Gentlemen, we can rebuild Light Reading. Better, faster, stronger.
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Anukool Lakhina, Guavus

7|20|15   |   38:51   |   (1) comment


Guavus CEO Anukool Lakhina talks to Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the role of operational analytics in the communications services and networking sectors, particularly in relation to IoT.
LRTV Custom TV
IBM's Flash Storage With Intel QuickAssist

7|20|15   |   03:18   |   (0) comments


Intel's Bev Crair and IBM's Eric Herzog discuss how IBM's V9000 Flash Storage System has helped customers around the world. Featuring real-time compression powered by Intel QuickAssist Technology, the V9000 is a next-gen flash storage solution.
Upcoming Live Events
September 16-17, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 16, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 16, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 14-15, 2015, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA
November 5, 2015, Hilton Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA
November 17, 2015, Santa Clara, California
December 1, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
To keep up with consumers' increasing digital lifestyles, an IT system and operating model overhaul is required using a modern BSS, IES and analytics.
Hot Topics
FCC Plan Could Stymie Rural Broadband
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 8/3/2015
Eurobites: Nokia Seals HERE Sale
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 8/3/2015
Verizon Small Cells Ready to Rock in Chicago
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 7/31/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
September 22, 2015
Media Begins With “Me”
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
I was pleasantly surprised when Ericsson recently agreed to let me interview its CEO, Hans Vestberg. Traditionally, mega-companies like Ericsson (or Cisco) have kept ...
Basil Alwan, President of IP Routing & Transport at Alcatel-Lucent, discusses virtualization, cultural challenges, the capex crunch and more with Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders.
Cats with Phones