& cplSiteName &

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 HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), and Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL). (See The Three Faces of SDN, Cisco & VMware Are Apple & Google of SDN, Big Switch Intros Flagship Big Cloud Fabric Ė 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.

 
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 Interviews
Cox Clears $2B in Business Revenue

12|8|16   |     |   (0) comments


Cox's Jeff Breaux discusses how the third-largest US MSO will reach the $2 billion revenue mark this year and plans to hit $3 billion by 2021
LRTV Interviews
Can Cable Climb Upmarket?

12|7|16   |     |   (0) comments


Carol Wilson and Alan Breznick assess cable's prospects for winning more enterprises in a landscape rocked by corporate M&A activity.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
TalkTalk Exec: Find Your North Star at Work

12|7|16   |   3:38   |   (1) comment


Women need to find their purpose, a professional North Star, and create a personal board for themselves, according to Alex Tempest, director of partners at TalkTalk Business.
LRTV Interviews
Verizon: Beware Unknown Unknowns

12|7|16   |   04:58   |   (0) comments


Chris Novak, director of the Verizon Enterprise Solutions Risk Team, explains that enterprises who don't conduct a thorough audit of their assets often leave some things unprotected because they don't know they exist. Many times these unprotected assets are part of corporate M&A activity but left unshielded they can become a hacker's playground, he tells Light ...
LRTV Interviews
ETSI's CTO Talks NFV, 5G & NGP

12|5|16   |   09:45   |   (0) comments


Adrian Scrase, CTO at standards body ETSI, talks about the various initiatives and specifications developments related to NFV, 5G and NGP (next-generation protocols) that will underpin next-gen networks.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Korn Ferry Consultant: How to Find, Cultivate & Be the Best Talent

11|30|16   |   4:10   |   (2) comments


Erin Callaghan, a managing consultant for Korn Ferry Futurestep, shares strategies for companies to improve how they recruit and for women to ensure they don't get lost in the pipeline.
LRTV Custom TV
We Can Make the World More Sustainable

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


GeSI is a global e-Sustainability Initiative organization bringing together 40 big multinational companies around the world. According to GeSI's report, information and communication technology can make the world more sustainable. Luis Neves, chairman of GeSI, shared with us his opinion at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
Finding a New Way to Engage Customers & Drive Revenue

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


Mobile revenues are declining. Digicel, a player in the Caribbean telecommunications/entertainment space, has found a new way to engage customers and drive revenue. John Quinn, CTO of Digicel, shared with us its story at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016)
LRTV Custom TV
Do You Really Need Gigabit Infrastructure?

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


Altibox is the biggest fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) player and the largest provider of video and TV in Norway. They started out with zero customers in 2002. Now they have close to half a million households and companies attached to their FTTH business. Nils Arne, CEO of Altibox shared with us their story and insight on 5G at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
BTís Openreach Strategy & Its Updates in 2016

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


A lot of developments at Openreach this year in terms of strategy and planned investments. Peter Bell, CIO of Openreach BT, shared with us the updates of Openreach at Ultra-broadband Forum (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
ITU: The Broadband Is Our Future

11|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


At Ultra-broadband Forum, Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of ITU, discussed how important it is for countries, companies and everybody to be working together to help to build the broadband and digital economies (UBBF2016).
LRTV Custom TV
Tackling 5G in Dallas

11|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


Here are our highlights of the 5G North America show in Dallas, Texas with Light Reading's Dan Jones.
Upcoming Live Events
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Hot Topics
Cable Nodes Becoming a Choke Point
Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading, 12/5/2016
WiCipedia: After-School Coding, Salary Probing & Pro-Parenthood Companies
Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, 12/2/2016
Consolidated Snaps Up Fairpoint for $1.5B
Iain Morris, News Editor, 12/5/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox Technologies, speaks to Steve Saunders, CEO of Light Reading, for an exclusive interview about the 100 GB cable challenge, cybersecurity and much more.
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
A Mobile Safari Click Here
Literally.
Latest Comment
Live Digital Audio

Even when there's a strong pipeline of female talent in the comms industry, it tends to leak all the way to the top. McKinsey & Company says women experience pipeline leakage at three primary points: being unable to enter, being stuck in the middle or being locked out of the top. Each pipeline pain point presents its own challenges, but also opportunities to stop the leak. Wireless operator Sprint is making a conscious effort to improve its own pipeline from new recruits to the C-suite, and it wants the rest of the industry to do the same. In this Women in Comms radio show, WiC Board Member and Sprint Vice President of Enterprise Sales Nelly Pitocco will give us her take on the industry's pipeline challenges. Pitocco, who joined Sprint in May and has spent 20 years in the comms industry, will also offer solutions, share how Sprint is tackling the challenge within its own organization and take your questions live on air.