& 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 – 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
Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators.
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
Heavy Reading: The Web-Scale View

1|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision Executive Summit in Rome, Heavy Reading's former chief analyst Patrick Donegan shared insight from the recent web-scale operators report, which featured research on how web-scale operators view the market, the best web-scale companies to ...
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Cloud Scale Networking: Automation, Virtualization & Simplification

1|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


Cisco's Sanjeev Mervana outlines the latest innovations in networking technology at CES 2017 in Las Vegas.
LRTV Custom TV
ADVA Talks Innovation & the Future of Networking

1|17|17   |     |   (0) comments


Ray Le Maistre and Christoph Glingener, CTO of ADVA Optical Networking, discuss the current state of the industry, cooperation and collaboration, open innovation and the future of networking.
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Infinite Video Platform

1|17|17   |     |   (0) comments


Cisco's Infinite Video Platform allows service providers to deliver broadcast-quality video over IP networks. Infinite video supports many devices, from 4K TVs to tablets to game consoles. Join Cisco's Rajeev Raman for a brief tour and live demo.
LRTV Interviews
Masergy: Ability to Adapt Key for NFV

1|16|17   |   6:40   |   (0) comments


Speaking at Light Reading's 2020 Vision in Rome, Masergy's VP, Global Technology, Ray Watson, said agility is key to providing the mix and match NFV-based services that are driving business for the managed service provider today.
LRTV Interviews
Equinix: The Data Explosion

1|13|17   |   4:16   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision in Rome, Eric Schwartz, president of EMEA, Equinix, talked about how Equinix is helping its customers manage the influx of data today, and how it's preparing for a future filled with millions of connected IoT devices.
LRTV Interviews
Heavy Reading: The Changing Data Center Landscape

1|12|17   |   6:05   |   (1) comment


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision event in Rome, Heavy Reading's Senior Analyst Roz Roseboro talks about how virtualization is impacting data center evolution and how that evolution is affecting the relationship between service providers, data center operators and public cloud providers.
LRTV Interviews
Boingo: Prepping for Millions of Devices

1|12|17   |   5:07   |   (1) comment


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision in Rome, Boingo's CTO Derek Peterson discusses how wireless operators will address the needs of low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth apps at the same time, the need for more MHz, the impact of IoT and more.
LRTV Interviews
Comcast Shows Off Gig Gateway at CES

1|11|17   |     |   (1) comment


With its largest presence at CES in years, Comcast took the wraps off its long-awaited gigabit gateway and a new platform for managing the home WiFi network. Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey sat down with EVP Chris Satchell to discuss the latest Comcast advance, and met with VP of Product Strategy and Development Andrea Peiro to walk through a demo of the ...
LRTV Interviews
Colt: End-to-End Key for 2017

1|10|17   |   6:21   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision Executive Summit in Rome, Nico Fischbach of Colt said having a multi-carrier, end-to-end service proposition is going to be key for 2017 -- and SD-WAN is instrumental in making it happen.
From the Founder
Cisco's Clemson on Mobile Cloud Video

1|9|17   |     |   (1) comment


Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators. "If you think about where we're going… whether it's a mobile application, or a video ...
LRTV Custom TV
VMware Telco NFV Solutions – Preparing for 5G & IOT

1|9|17   |     |   (0) comments


Shekar Ayyar, EVP & Corporate Strategy/General Manager of Telco for VMware, discusses VMware's Telco NFV solutions role and foundation for the Imminent Arrival of 5G & IOT.
Upcoming Live Events
March 21-22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
May 15-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Hot Topics
A Women in Comms Glossary
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 1/18/2017
Is Cable One Beefing Up for Slaughter?
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 1/20/2017
Nokia CTO: 2017 Is the Year 5G Gets in the Field
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 1/19/2017
TV's Paradox: No HDR Without 4K
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 1/17/2017
Cable Has One Thing Verizon Needs
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 1/17/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders chats with Sportlogiq CEO Craig Buntin about sports data analysis.
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.
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.