SDN architectures

Cisco Won't Put OpenFlow on Nexus Yet

SAN DIEGO -- Cisco Live -- The first Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) boxes to get the OpenFlow protocol will be campus-level Catalyst switches, not the Nexus 3000, as one Cisco blog entry had stated.

The Catalyst news was part of Cisco's software-defined networking (SDN) announcement Wednesday morning, where the company set out a plan for network programmability that includes multiple products and features, not all of them qualifying as SDN, and a bit of OpenFlow on the side, for now. (See Cisco Takes ONE Step Beyond SDN.)

The initial OpenFlow strategy involves giving away proof-of-concept controllers to universities, and those will be running on the Catalyst 3750-X and 3560-X campus-network switches. Later on, Cisco will be considering how or whether to set prices for the controllers, says Shashi Kiran, Cisco's senior director of data center, cloud and switching.

For now, though, the controllers aren't commercially available. Cisco argues that it doesn't see much OpenFlow interest outside of experimental uses yet. Some carriers are showing interest -- NTT Group (NYSE: NTT) in particular, encouraged by the early OpenFlow efforts at NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701). But Cisco doesn't see a reason to start glomming OpenFlow onto every switch and router, Kiran says.

But what about the Nexus 3000? At some point, apparently, Cisco thought it would be nice to add OpenFlow to that low-latency data-center switch. (See Cisco Will Support OpenFlow.)

That plan's been scrapped for now, after Cisco reconsidered OpenFlow's place in the data center, Kiran says.

"With a lot of our data center customers, we found out they really required deep programmatic access," Kiran says. The onePK set of application programming interfaces (APIs), which was also announced Wednesday, was more appropriate for them than an OpenFlow controller.

That's among the reasons why Cisco chose not make an SDN announcement until now, officials said during a press conference here Wednesday. SDN is a widespread and often ill-defined concept, and customers last year weren't so sure how they wanted to use it. Cisco didn't want to announce something and have to keep changing its mind, multiple executives said.

Specifically, a lot of customers shifted from wanting OpenFlow to wanting something they called SDN, says Prashant Gandhi, senior director of Cisco's data center group. "Even there, it's still emerging. Customers are not ready to say, 'I will have a controller with this environment.' What they want is programmability," he says.

Cisco officials aren't saying how soon they might offer OpenFlow commercially. Despite the enthusiasm (and products) coming from NEC, Big Switch Networks and others, Cisco claims it's not convinced of a viable business direction for OpenFlow yet. "We'd like to see use cases," Kiran says.

For more
Here's how Cisco's SDN status was looking before Wednesday's announcements: — Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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