Cisco Unveils Carrier SDN Network Fabric

Following months of Carrier SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualization) shadow-boxing, Cisco Systems has announced a new network fabric for the virtual networking world and unveiled three new hardware platforms aimed at delivering the benefits of NFV and SDN to communications service providers (CSPs).

The announcement of the Cisco Network Convergence System includes three hardware components the vendor says can be managed as a single, integrated system. Surya Panditi, senior vice president and general manager, Service Provider Networking Group at Cisco, describes the Network Convergence System as a "central nervous system for managing the evolved programmable network."

The hardware components in play include:

  • The NCS 6000, which is an IP/MPLS routing platform capable, according to Cisco, of 5 Tbit/s per slot and 1.2 Pbit/s per system;
  • The NCS 4000, which supports OTN, WDM, SONET and Ethernet applications at 400 Gbit/s per slot and 6.4 Tbit/s per system;
  • The NCS 2000, which connects DWDM transport networks at 100 Gbit/s and above, with 96-channel ROADM capabilities for dynamic network configurability.

    The NCS 6000 and NCS 2000 are available for shipping now, while the NCS 4000 will be available in the first half of 2014.

    Three major service providers -- Japan's KDDI Corp. , Australia's Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), and the UK's Sky -- are already deploying elements of the NCS in their networks, says Doug Webster, vice president of marketing at Cisco's Service Provider Networking Group. "A lot of people are talking about these concepts of how to create a more dynamically programmable network environment, but we are shipping products," Webster says.

    Those early deployments should help Cisco start to realize the virtualization-related revenue it's been telling the market industry will be key to its future success. (See Cisco Sees NFV as a Key to New Sales.)

    The NCS family, which fits within the broader Cisco ONE Service Provider Architecture, leverages previous Cisco developments aimed at increasing the speed and flexibility of networks as they respond to the demand created by various traffic trends, ranging from cloud transactions and video consumption to mobile broadband and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.

    One of those innovations is the 400 Gbit/s nPower X1 processor announced earlier this month and targeted at supporting explosive growth in transactions exemplified by M2M. (See Cisco Aims New Chip at SDN, M2M.)

    The NCS fabric also draws on Cisco's SDN-related data center developments, including its Unified Computing System and Dynamic Fabric Automation capabilities. It includes capabilities from Cisco's nLight multi-layer control plane to simplify and optimize the convergence of Layer 3 core, edge, and access functions. (See Cisco's Core Router Gets Optical Genes and Cisco Pledges SDN Openness With Cariden.)

    "We're creating the ability to respond to the rise of event-based communications and related transactions by shifting your network resources round in real time," Panditi says.

    Ray Mota, founder of ACG Research , said applying SDN-related data center concepts to the wide area network (WAN) makes sense, and gives Cisco a more flexible platform for addressing service providers' network needs.

    "A WAN fabric that is capable of virtualizing the network with a platform with southbound and northbound APIs allows programmability of the network," he says.

    Panditi was hesitant to describe the NCS as an SDN or NFV overlay, but Mota says that isn't surprising. "There is still some misunderstanding around what SDN or NFV really mean," he says. "SDN should be more than just breaking out the control plane from the data plane. It's about the programmability of the network, which should simplify and leverage the assets of your network. And NFV is more than just breaking out the software from a dedicated appliance -- it's really about reducing the time to efficiency or service velocity, which increases the value of your network," says the analyst.

    — Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

    Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Ethernet & SDN Expo, a Light Reading Live event that takes place on October 2-3, 2013 at the Javits Center in New York City. Co-located with Interop, Light Reading's Ethernet& SDN Expo will focus on how the convergence of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 with emerging carrier software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies could change the whole telecom landscape for service providers. For more information, or to register,
    click here

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    dwx 9/28/2013 | 10:38:41 PM
    Re: Cisco NCS's origins Not to pick on your comment specifically, but I'm not sure why people are attaching the terms NFV and SDN to this stuff. It's a big packet optical system meant for core routing and transport. The benefits being combining the components through cheaper interconnects and managing the system is less complex. The virtualization benefits are mainly around issu and zero packet loss switchover. There is no more control plane forwarding plane separation than any other router made in the last several years.
    saikat.prabhakar 9/27/2013 | 2:55:11 PM
    UCS on steroids We can say...its Cisco UCS on steroids with Cisco OS running in the VM's...and ain't it obvious that we are going to see many such solutions from Cisco in near future...
    yarn 9/27/2013 | 12:15:04 PM
    Re: NFV according to Cisco’s NCS Mukluk, I think it's a giant leap for Cisco but a small step for mankind:-)
    RolfSperber 9/27/2013 | 11:05:03 AM
    Re: Not generic Hi, to be a bit more precise, it is a building block model as promoted by Prof. Mueller, University of Kaiserslautern (see " A building block interaction model for flexible future internet architectures" Kaiserslautern 2011). I used the term App to be a bit more on the popular side. Howerver, these building blocks must have standardized interfaces (a friend of mine used the term receptor from biology) to either define a workflow (e.g. encryption/decryption <-> infrastructure <-> encryption /decryption) or an attached service. This is something we are going to test while proceeding with the 400 G /1T demonstrator between Dresden and Munich. See Eddie Beiers Blog on 400 GBit/s demonstrator.
    yarn 9/27/2013 | 9:18:57 AM
    Re: Not generic Hey Rolf, That's a very interesting model and you could argue that for consumer devices it is already in place: Apps like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber are really NFV apps. But service providers will require more due dilligence and regression testing to make sure a new NFV app plays nicely with all the others before admitting it to their network/Datacenter. Btw, I don't see why equipment suppliers would be less eligible then others to make NFV apps. It's a bit like game console vendors that port their titles for a generic PC environment as well. This doesn't have to be a conflict of interests. Some content may be exclusive on the console for a while, or run better on the specialized console hardware, but if there's money to be made in porting it to other, neutral platforms, why not do it?
    RolfSperber 9/27/2013 | 4:51:39 AM
    Not generic Hi, it is a step in the right direction, but so far I cannot see how NFV is going to work with functions offered by other suppliers. The approach will have to be far more generic, the functions have to be somewhat like apps to be downloaded from an appstore. We, that is a group from University of Dresden, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg and others are working on such an approach.
    Mukluk 9/26/2013 | 1:56:32 PM
    NFV according to Cisco’s NCS NFV according to Cisco's NCS:

    Before: router functions run on a Cisco CRS

    After: router functions run on a VM inside a Cisco NCS


    Craig Matsumoto 9/25/2013 | 10:43:42 AM
    Cisco NCS's origins Side note: The NCS 6000 is essentially the CTR core router with a lot of SDN attached.

    CTR is the would-be successor to the CRS line. Light Reading broke the story back in May after someone kindly tipped off an enterprising young reporter: 

    Dredgie 9/24/2013 | 11:12:15 PM
    Re: Really its just CDN Is it an NFV position? Or is it simply control and forwarding plane separation? Clearly looks like the latter to me - which is a path to NFV.... but a long windy one. 
    DOShea 9/24/2013 | 10:02:00 PM
    Re: Really its just CDN Having talked to Cisco a bit before the live announcement, I admit to getting lost in their web of innocuous-sounding branded concepts--the Internet of Everything, the Evolved Programmable Network, the Unified Computing System, etc. It sort makes me want to trademark the Words in This Sentence (TM) before Cisco does. In any case, any sort of vision for a programmable network is certainly not Cisco's alone, and has been around in one form or another for at least 15 years.
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