Light Reading

Cisco's ACI Gets Physical With SDN

Dan O'Shea
11/6/2013
100%
0%

Now that Cisco Systems has unveiled its much-anticipated Application-Centric Infrastructure and set plans to acquire the part of ACI developer and Cisco "spin-in" Insieme Networks that it doesn’t already own, what should we make of all this? Is Cisco circling the wagons in an attempt to fend off the software-defined networking (SDN) savages for as long as possible, or is it setting a new standard for next-generation datacenter infrastructures?

Those wanting definitive answers may have to wait a little longer, as some aspects of the ACI portfolio will not be available until well into 2014. For those waiting on SDN investments to see what Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has to offer, the company is now addressing the SDN movement with a strategy that is unmistakably hardware-based, with some software elements that won't be available until the second half of 2014. That gives Cisco critics even more basis to charge that Cisco is still more interested in protecting its own market position than in joining the revolution around SDN and virtualization in the datacenter.

Yet ACI also is focused on treating applications more individually, based on their own requirements for bandwidth, security, and other resources. Though the idea of application-based networking is nothing new, Cisco appears to be making a real attempt to free applications from physical location and infrastructure restraints to create a new model for application networking within the datacenter and among multiple datacenters.

ACI is a hybrid physical and virtual strategy consisting of the Nexus 9000 family of switches and an Application Policy Infrastructure Controller that centralizes and automates policy management for the Nexus 9000 fabric. It is capable of managing up to 1 million endpoints.

"There is an obvious need to support a heterogeneous environment of physical and virtual network resources," says Ish Limkakeng, vice president, Insieme Networks, backing up the comment with study results showing that only 21 percent of physical datacenter servers will be virtualized by 2016.

The APIC also relies on application network profiles that define the unique requirements of each application and its interdependencies with various network infrastructure resources.

"With the APIC, we're decoupling application and policy from network infrastructure," Limkakeng says. "In doing that, the APIC works apart and independently from the typical switch control and data planes."

In a nod to openness, Cisco's Nexus 9000 switches can work with commercially available silicon and open SDN controllers. However, and not surprisingly, Limkakeng says customers will not get the full benefits of the ACI fabric and the APIC if they go that route instead of using Cisco silicon and the APIC. Those benefits include Cisco's claim of up to 75 percent total cost of ownership saving over fabrics using merchant silicon or software-only virtualization solutions. Also, ACI has Cisco's own version of investment protection: The APIC can be used with the vendor's Nexus 7000 switches, with its current NX operating system transitional to ACI.

Cisco claims the openness tag by supporting RESTful APIs and extensions to OpenDaylight, OpenStack, virtual switches, and VXLANs. The vendor also announced a broad ecosystem of vendor partners supporting ACI, including BMC, CA Technologies, Citrix, EMC, Embrane, Emulex, F5, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, Panduit, Puppet Labs, NIKSUN, OpsCode, Red Hat, SAP, Splunk, Symantec, VCE, and VMware.

This week's announcement brings to an end more than a year and a half of speculation about Insieme Networks and its take on datacenter infrastructure. Going back to early 2012, Cisco has already invested $135 million in Insieme, and it announced plans this week to fully acquire the small firm staffed with ex-Cisco folks at an ultimate value of $863 million. First billed as an SDN venture by industry observers, Cisco has made clear in recent months that Insieme's mission is more about re-vamping datacenter infrastructure to be more application-focused. (See Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan, Cisco Drops Hints About Insieme & SDN, Cisco's Insieme Doesn't Like Your SDN Model, and Insieme Is Imminent.)

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

(7)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
DOShea
50%
50%
DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
11/11/2013 | 10:55:32 PM
Re: The Open/Closed Paradox
The market leader, whoever it is, Cisco or otherwise, is never going to play the open systems game until customers force them to through their own actions. The thing is that what Cisco is preaching has worked for them before, just as it has worked for market leaders in other segments.
Luiz Lourenco
100%
0%
Luiz Lourenco,
User Rank: Lightning
11/7/2013 | 12:51:51 PM
The Open/Closed Paradox
I watched the whole presentation yesterday and it was clear from the beginning that Cisco is building a paralel business and technical context to compete with SDN and NFV open standards and implementations and protect their market. ACI will be great and wonderful since we use Nexus 9000 switches deployed together with APIC and all the software environment that shall be created in the coming months. Any surprise? Of course not.

To make sure this initiative will have full market support Cisco invited long-time friends and foes to come together and develop the required aplications and software ecosystem. This artificial symbiosis among so many different vendors is supposed to help them leverage their own products and solutions while supporting Cisco in its war against the inescapable: the open standards will rule! CAPEX and OPEX have skyrocketed in the last decade because of the exponential growth of internet and mobile users and carriers cannot put up with this continuos, enormous and increasing investment in their businesses. Many of them are deeply indebted and making sharp moves to try and recover from serious financial problems. This is the perfect time for the open initiatives to take their place in the market and help operators relieve the pressure over their budgets. Cisco is clearly on the opposite direction with an amazing speech: you will strongly reduce your TCO as long as you stick with our end-to-end ACI solutions. A paradox in itself.
DOShea
50%
50%
DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
11/6/2013 | 4:54:41 PM
Re: What happens next...
That is pretty much what they are saying, which I guess is what everyone has been expecting their position to be, so maybe few surprises here. I think the Application Network Profile and how it's being used is interesting--wondering if other companies are doing something similar by different names, or if it is unique (Note to self: Look into that.)

There are definitely a lot of partners backing Cisco on this, and it's obviously going to have a bigger ecosystem than anyone else. Competitors like Juniper and Arista are building up their own ecosystems at the same time.
dwx
50%
50%
dwx,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/6/2013 | 4:47:12 PM
Re: The Cisco way
You'll notice in all the material Cisco put out "SDN" isn't mentioned for a reason.   

APIC is an infrastructure orchestration platform driven by application need, and is not tied to just networking.  Apparently APIC will work with existing orchestration platforms which manage their own little piece of the puzzle and use open standards to do so, which could include SDN.  So if you want to use APIC with OpenDaylight to program your switches using OpenFlow, it can do so.   I really try to divorce the terms "network automation" versus "SDN", network automation has been around for many many years.  The devices and extensions to NX-OS are all about bringing server automation tools like Puppet, Chef, Python scripting, XMPP, Linux containers, etc.  to the switches.   The DevOps movement standardizes and automates infrastructure so when an application needs to be launched no infrastructure guys are involved.  That's the goal with APIC what they have included in the switch gear.   The goal is also to be able to just plug in more switches and have them brought into the network seamlessly with really no human interaction.  

My guess is with the actual Insieme ASIC piece they will get more insight into granular application flow through the network and correlate the data through APIC.   Whether they then gain some ability to program flow paths through the network (true SDN) remains to e seen.  

I've seen some comparison to VMWare NSX (or Junos Contrail) and it's really apples and oranges.   Those are network overlay technologies, Cisco is supporting NSX by including VXLAN VTEP/GW functionality in the switches (part of the Trident 2).   If people want to run network tunnels between hypervisors there isn't much Cisco can do about it, they don't have a play in that arena.  
DOShea
50%
50%
DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
11/6/2013 | 4:47:00 PM
Re: The Cisco way
Even though it is being called a controller, I think it's a little closer to an overlay, if we're going to use SDN terms--which Cisco won't, by the way. I feel like Cisco is trying to say, yes, SDN is over there and that's interesting, but let's talk about applications.
sam masud
50%
50%
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/6/2013 | 4:38:00 PM
What happens next...
Given its market position, Cisco seems have laid down a challenge for the industry, saying you can do things our way with APIC or go the open route and take your chances because you're not then going to have all the capabilities of the APIC. Not entirely unexpected. What's more than a little scary for competitors is the number of customer or prospective customer endorsements Cisco has received for its solution.
Carol Wilson
0%
100%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
11/6/2013 | 2:25:13 PM
The Cisco way
So is the APIC Cisco's version of an SDN controller? Are they developing a separate version of SDN? It's not clear to me how this fits into the broader industry trend. 
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Last week I dropped in on "Hotlanta," Georgia to moderate Light Reading's inaugural DroneComm conference – a unique colloquium investigating the potential for drone communications to disrupt the world's telecom ecosystem. As you will see, it was a day of exploration and epiphany...
LRTV Documentaries
Verizon's Emmons: SDN Key to Cost-Effective Scaling

5|22|15   |   03:53   |   (0) comments


For Verizon and other network operators to ramp up available bandwidth cost effectively, they need to move to SDN and agree on how to do that.
LRTV Documentaries
Lack of Universal SDN a Challenge

5|21|15   |   04:51   |   (3) comments


Heavy Reading Analyst Sterling Perrin talks about how uncertainty about SDN standards and approaches may be slowing deployment.
LRTV Custom TV
Steve Vogelsang Interview: Carrier SDN

5|20|15   |   05:02   |   (0) comments


Sterling Perrin speaks to Steve Vogelsang, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for IP Routing & Transport business, about the new Carrier SDN-enabling Network Services Platform and the operator challenges it solves.
LRTV Custom TV
Carrier SDN: On-Demand Networks for an On-Demand World

5|20|15   |   20:52   |   (0) comments


Steve Vogelsang, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for IP Routing & Transport business, talks about requirements and benefits of Carrier SDN during the keynote address at the Light Reading Carrier SDN event May 2015.
LRTV Documentaries
The Security Challenge of SDN

5|19|15   |   02:52   |   (0) comments


CenturyLink VP James Feger discusses concerns that virtualization could create new vulnerabilities unless network operators build in safeguards.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV Elasticity – Highly Available VNF Scale-Out Architectures for the Mobile Edge

5|18|15   |   5:50   |   (0) comments


Peter Marek and Paul Stevens from Advantech Networks and Communications Group talk about their NFV Elasticity initiative and the company's latest platforms for deploying virtual network functions at the edge of the network. Packetarium XL and the new Versatile Server Module: 'designed to reach parts of the network that other servers cannot reach.'
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Bay Area Spark Meetup 2015

5|14|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Developed in 2009, Apache Spark is a powerful open source processing engine built around speed, ease of use and sophisticated analytics. This spring, Huawei hosted a meetup for Spark developers and data scientists in Santa Clara, California. Light Reading spoke with organizers and attendees about Huawei's code contributions and long-term commitment to Spark.
LRTV Custom TV
The Transport SDN Buzz

5|12|15   |   06:01   |   (1) comment


Sterling Perrin, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, speaks with Peter Ashwood-Smith of Huawei and Guru Parulkar of ON.Lab about the evolution of transport SDN and the integration of technologies.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation CCAP: Cisco cBR-8 Evolved CCAP

5|5|15   |   04:49   |   (0) comments


John Chapman, Cisco's CTO of Cable Access Business Unit and Cisco Fellow, explained the innovation design of Cisco's cBR-8, the industry's first Evolved CCAP, including DOCSIS 3.1 design from ground-up, distributed CCAP with Remote PHY and path to virtualization. Cisco's cBR-8 Evolved CCAP is the platform that will last through the transitions.
LRTV Custom TV
Meeting the Demands of Bandwidth & Service Group Growth

5|1|15   |   5:35   |   (0) comments


Jorge Salinger, Comcast's Vice President of Access Architecture, explains how DOCSIS 3.1 and multi-service CCAP can meet the demands of the bandwidth and service group growth.
LRTV Custom TV
DOCSIS 3.1: Transforming Cable From Hardware-Defined Network to Software-Defined Network

4|29|15   |   03:48   |   (0) comments


John Chapman, Cisco's CTO of Cable Access Business Unit and Cisco Fellow, explains how DOCSIS 3.1 can transform cable HFC network to a more agile software-defined network.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Predicting Traffic Patterns for Quality Mobile Broadband

4|29|15   |   6:45   |   (0) comments


Accessing information ubiquitously creates complexity and creates heavy traffic onto the network, especially at large-scale events like sporting events or festivals. In this video, Huawei's Mohammad Hussain speaks to experts about how to predict traffic and improve user experience during periods of heavy traffic.
Upcoming Live Events
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 6, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
October 6, 2015, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Network functions virtualization (NFV) is not the easiest of topics to take on board, so here's a Light Reading infographic, developed following conversations with the folks at HP, that helps make sense of where NFV is taking the industry.
Hot Topics
Verizon Saves 60% Swapping Copper for Fiber
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 5/19/2015
Choosing a Technology Supplier? Consider Changing Your Selection Criteria
Steve Saunders, CEO and founder, Light Reading, 5/18/2015
Chattanooga Charts Killer Gigabit Apps
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/20/2015
10 Alternate Uses for Tablets
Eryn Leavens, Copy Desk Editor, 5/22/2015
Smarter 'Dumb' TVs Will Drive OTT Adoption
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/18/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
With 200 customers in 60 countries, Stockholm-based Net Insight has carved out a solid leadership position in one of the hottest vertical markets going in comms right now: helping service providers and broadcasters deliver video and other multimedia traffic over IP networks. How has Net Insight managed to achieve this success in the face of immense competition from the industry giants?
My ongoing interview tour of the leading minds of the telecom industry recently took me to Richardson, Texas, where I met with Rod Naphan, CTO and SVP, Solutions, ...
I recently popped down to Texas to chat with CEO Eric L. Pratt about his company, Taqua.
Cats with Phones