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Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto
6/13/2012
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SAN DIEGO -- Cisco Live -- Application programming interfaces (APIs) are king, and OpenFlow is almost an afterthought, in the software-defined networking (SDN) strategy that Cisco is announcing Wednesday.

It's Cisco's long-awaited contribution to -- or its rebuttal against -- the SDN craze. The official unveiling is expected during a press conference here Wednesday morning.

In keeping with the hints dropped in recent weeks, Cisco is pitching a model of whole-network programmability, one that officials say goes beyond the usual definition of SDN.

As for OpenFlow, don't get your hopes up. Cisco is announcing an OpenFlow 1.0 controller aimed at universities, but it's just a proof-of-concept box -- an experiment. No commercial product is being announced at all, nor is Cisco declaring OpenFlow integration for any of its products yet.

That's the appropriate level of support for where the market is today, Cisco officials argue, because the standard lacks security and policy-based forwarding. They also don't consider it to have stabilized yet. (See OpenFlow Taps the Brakes.)

"Over time, it might change, and over time, you might get much of that functionality. But without those basic pieces being available, customers might not be in a position to deploy it," says Shashi Kiran, a senior director of market management at Cisco.

Not every switch/router vendor sees it that way. Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), for instance, recently announced a marketing partnership with NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) that includes that company's OpenFlow controller. Similar partnerships with other controller vendors are likely, Brocade Director of Product Management Keith Stewart tells Light Reading. "We do believe that controllers are important," he says. (See Brocade Sets an SDN Plan.)

But getting back to Cisco: Its news is less about controllers and more about APIs.

Hail the API
Cisco's answer to SDN is called the Open Network Environment, or ONE. (Thanks to SDN, everything is "open." It's the new "tera.") (See Ciena Opens Up to Software-Defined Networking.)

It includes three initiatives related to SDN. One is the OpenFlow controller.

Another is a new set of capabilities for the Nexus 1000v routers, including support for OpenStack cloud management and for all popular hypervisors, and the ability to run VXLAN gateways for moving virtual machines. All of these features would be used to create overlay networks -- subsets of the whole network. (Customer trials of these abilities should start in the fourth quarter, Cisco says.)

The star of ONE is the platform kit, called onePK. It's a set of Cisco-provided APIs that tap the network for state information, then let applications use that information to set policies or otherwise program the network -- a feedback loop, as Cisco describes it. The network holds a lot of information that applications can now access -- information involving what types of users are accessing applications, or which parts of the network are getting congested, for example.

Cisco contends that ONE goes beyond the point of most SDN discussions, because SDN, and OpenFlow in particular, concern the control plane and forwarding planes only. Cisco says its APIs will program the rest of the network as well: at the transport, services, and management and orchestration layers.

This is where Cisco's obsession with architectures comes into play. "You've got to have the visibility of all these components. That's where Cisco can play a huge role," says Sanjeev Mervana, director of product management for Cisco's Service Provider Group.

OnePK will target across Cisco's IOS, IOS-XR and NX-OS operating systems.

Not like the cloud
CEO John Chambers insists Cisco is not just reacting to SDN hype. Rather, he claims it's getting ahead of the market when it comes to network programmability, including SDN.

Cloud networking, by contrast, is one area where Cisco was late, Chambers noted in a Q&A session with the media Tuesday. That's why, when CTO Padmasree Warrior arrived three years ago, her first assignment was to get Cisco caught up in regard to the cloud.

SDN isn't the same story.

"This is pre-"cloud-three-years-ago" in terms of where the approach is. The difference is that we're going to lead here," Chambers said. "We're pursuing it on multiple fronts, including the spin-in option, as well as internal, as well as through acquisitions."

The spin-in is Insieme, the latest startup from a team led by Mario Mazzola, Luca Cafiero and Prem Jain, ex-Cisco executives who have founded two other spin-in startups that Cisco acquired. Insieme is intended to be the third. (See Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan.)

Cisco officials aren't commenting yet on Insieme's product plan. Come to think of it, does Insieme have a product plan yet? "It's too early to comment on that," Kiran says.

For more



— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:23 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


One way Cisco summarizes its strategy is All Of The Above -- they're doing SDN via APIs, via controllers (like OpenFlow), and via overlay networks (engineered by the Nexus 1000v for now).

Quote from Shashi Kiran during the Cisco press conference: "We're in a position to offer the best in each of these areas, and we're in a position to break the silos between these areas."

First -- would you agree with that? And second -- doesn't the controller part of the plan seem kind of half-hearted? (Granted, Cisco has a point in saying OpenFlow is still a work-in-progress.)

torivar
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torivar,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:22 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


Here is the Cisco Blog post about OnePK


http://blogs.cisco.com/getyour...


There is nothing groundbreaking in what they are talking about, Juniper started doing this stuff with JunOS years ago.  


I would somewhat agree I don't think OpenFlow is flushed out enough to really be used on a large scale today, but comparing it to MS-DOS is probably a bit harsh.   OpenFlow is meant to control a forwarding plane, not manage an entire router, it's just a cog in the entire system.   OpenFlow doesn't need to do all of the things Cisco is talking about...  


 


 

jggveth
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jggveth,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:21 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


This vendor architecture marketing and need to bow down at the SDN alter is starting to get old. 


It's so 2 months ago. 

Sisyphus
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Sisyphus,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:21 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN
junos's sdk(s) are far more prescriptive and don't fully cater to application architects. The fact cisco says REST and python (why no PHP?) is very web 2.0... Min you the proof is in the APIs and they don't seem to be public yet. Ultimately the power of SDN is the power of abstraction. APIs that are only understood by certified networking engineers don't take the network any further when it comes to app level relevance.
Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:21 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


You're right, dwx, and I should have mentioned that in the story. Juniper is big on the idea of using APIs to reach into the brains of network elements. Except they make it sound less gory.

Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:20 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


> Min you the proof is in the APIs and they don't seem to be public yet. Ultimately the power of SDN is the power of abstraction. APIs that are only understood by certified networking engineers don't take the network any further when it comes to app level relevance.


True. Cisco says their aim is to make it so that using the APIs doesn't require extensive network knowledge. That'll be something to watch for as this all unfolds.


Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:20 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


> This vendor architecture marketing and need to bow down at the SDN alter is starting to get old. 

<div>

&gt; It's so 2 months ago.


I think even the staunchest SDN supporters would tell you they expect a backlash. Hype will do that.

</div>
skroenig
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skroenig,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:20 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


According to their blogs and press releases, Cisco announced OpenFlow on their Cat3K switches not on their Nexus plus a sdn controller for research.&nbsp;if you watch thier press conf. looks like they don't think it is relevant in DCs.

Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:19 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


&gt; According to their blogs and press releases, Cisco announced OpenFlow on their Cat3K switches not on their Nexus plus a sdn controller for research.&nbsp;if you watch thier press conf. looks like they don't think it is relevant in DCs.


Yes; I wrote a follow-up to that effect, including the data-center-relevance part:


http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=221951

torivar
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torivar,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:30:18 PM
re: Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN


Juniper has the Junos Space SDK which is very "web 2.0", using REST APIs. &nbsp;I think they announced it back in early 2011...&nbsp;

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