& cplSiteName &

Cisco Ships Its SDN Architecture -- Almost

Mitch Wagner

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
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. 
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
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. 
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.

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
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.

Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
Friday, October 28, 1:00PM EDT
Security: The Plusses and Minuses of Open Source Software
Nick Feamster, Acting Director, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University
Wednesday, November 16, 1:00PM EST
SDN 101
John Isch, Practice Director, Network & Voice, Orange Business Services
Friday, November 18, 1:00PM EST
SDN & Open Source
Christopher W. Rice, Senior Vice President of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design
Wednesday, November 30, 1:00PM EST
SDN & the Software Defined Data Center
in association with:
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 Custom TV
OneAccess NFV Solutions

10|26|16   |   5:30   |   (0) comments

Antoine Clerget, CTO of OneAccess, discusses how his company has expanded its product line from enterprise-class routers to include a universal virtualized CPE as well as a suite of VNFs to help telco customers evolve to an NFV future.
LRTV Custom TV
The Journey Toward Carrier-Grade WiFi

10|26|16   |   3:39   |   (0) comments

In this Light Reading interview, Dave Sperling, CTO at Smith Micro Software and active participant of the WBA's policy working group, discusses the need for carrier-grade WiFi. Technical and business challenges slowing the fulfillment of this goal are addressed, as well as management strategies that will enable communication service providers to optimize end user ...
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE BBWF Highlights

10|26|16   |     |   (0) comments

At BBWF 2016, ZTE showed a broad range of innovative technologies that are kick-starting an ultrafast broadband journey.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation Technology Beyond DOCSIS 3.1

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Liu Jianhua speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Hybrid Video Solutions to Change TV, Change Future

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Ian Locke speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei Future-Oriented Giga Coax Network

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Allen Wang speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei at SCTE 2016

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Alan Breznick of Light Reading and take a sneak peek at the Huawei booth at SCTE 2016.
LRTV Custom TV
Assuring Network Quality in a Rapidly Changing Environment

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

As the rate of change and complexity increases in agile networks, the importance of introducing DevOps methodologies for integrating active test and assurance solutions throughout the full service lifecycle becomes critical to ensure that customers are experiencing the service quality they demand. The industry landscape is changing, and software-based test and ...
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
A10 Networks on Service Providers' Industry Needs

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Light Reading's Steve Saunders hears how A10 enables service providers to accelerate, secure and optimize their application delivery to drive down costs, enhance service availability, and better respond to customer requirements, so they can improve customer satisfaction, monetize their network, and grow revenues.
LRTV Custom TV
New NFV Use Cases for Cable TV

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

A large number of NFV use cases are focused on the enterprise domain, looking at virtualization of customer-premises equipment (CPE). To date, there has been little focus on the use cases and business case for virtualization of the video content delivery networks required to deliver unicast and streaming video to consumers. Amdocs commissioned Analysys Mason to ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Meet the Future Workforce: New Faces, Expectations & Motivations

10|19|16   |   5:33   |   (1) comment

Millennials and their younger peers, Gen Z, expect more out of their network and more out of their work. Intel's Lynn Comp shares how the industry can prepare for this new generation of workers.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE Global Services User Congress 2016 Highlights

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

ZTE held its 2nd Global Service User Conference in Dusseldorf on October 13-14. Representatives from network operators, leading industry analysts and ZTE senior expertsattended the event, exploring the best practice in managed services and the vision to transform network operations into the operations center of the future (OpCF) in the software-defined networking ...
Upcoming Live Events
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 1, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
Attacks Have Major Internet Sites on the Ropes
Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading, 10/21/2016
Trump: Dump AT&T/TW & Comcast/NBC
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 10/24/2016
Layer3 TV Comes to Town, Hints at Future
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 10/21/2016
T-Mobile: AT&T & TW Means Ma Bell Not Focused on Mobile
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 10/24/2016
Sprint: Revenue up 3%, Capex Will Rise Again
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 10/25/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
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.
There's no question that, come 2020, 5G technology will turn the world's conception of what mobile networking is on its head. Within the world of 5G development, Dr. ...
Animals with Phones
'Oh, Were You Looking for This?' Click Here
'I was just playing some games...'
Live Digital Audio

A vital part of increasing the number of women in comms is transforming the ways companies can support and empower women. While progressive company policies that support both men and women in achieving work-life balance are a step in the right direction, creating a company culture that supports those policies can at times be more challenging.

During this show, we'll talk to Lynn Comp, Senior Director of Industry and Sales Enabling (ISE) in the Network Platforms Group at Intel, about why those challenges exist and how companies can overcome them. She'll provide insight into how Intel has worked to create a culture that supports work-life balance, and provide steps and guidance for other companies wishing to do the same. We will also leave plenty of time to get your questions answered live on the air.