Cloud enablement

Cisco Broadens Its Software-Defined Networking

LAS VEGAS -- Interop 2012 --Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) plans to extend software-defined networking (SDN) to multiple levels of the network, taking what the company says is a more comprehensive approach than SDN is seeing now.

SDN is often thought of as a club that's going to splat Cisco to the sidewalk like a bug. But in her keynote, Padmasree Warrior, one of Cisco's two CTOs and the general manager of the enterprise business, tried to turn that image around by portraying Cisco as a leader that's looking two moves ahead in SDN's progression.

"We want everyone to think more broadly and holistically about SDN," she said.

Cisco still hasn't disclosed its full SDN plan, but its platform will be called the Cisco Open Programmable Environment, and it will be about providing programmability and visibility at multiple levels of the network. OpenFlow, the hot SDN technology of the day, does those things at the control and data planes; Cisco wants to expand the concept to the rest of the network, possibly up to the orchestration layer.

(Warrior didn't specify which layers she was talking about, but her slide included an orchestration layer, so we'll use that as our example.)

Of course, Warrior also pledged Cisco's approach would be open (but probably not as open as the Most Open Organization ). [Ed. note: Who could be that open?]

Programmability is a key facet of SDN -- the concept is all about being able to program the network -- but visibility can be important too. The network holds a lot of state information, and policy engines and other network elements expend a lot of effort trying to glean that information. Cisco's role in SDN could involve unlocking that data, as David Ward, another CTO and chief architect of Cisco's service provider division, recently noted. (See Cisco Links SDN & Policy.)

That kind of awareness is one of the key characteristics Cisco plans to drive for the network, helping set policy by using analytics combined with subscriber and session information.

The bigger theme in Warrior's talk was the general transformation of the enterprise network, driven by trends such as cloud computing and mobility.

In addition to SDN, she discussed the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, saying the network has to provide user telemetry -- visibility as to what devices are connecting and how they're being used -- in order to better set policies. This network also needs to be more programmable and, because IT budgets aren't increasing, more manageable than today's.

By the way, Cisco is still laying claim to having the "first instantiation of SDN," through the Nexus 1000v routers that separate the data and control planes. We'll leave the comments open for you fact-checkers out there.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:33:47 PM
re: Cisco Broadens Its Software-Defined Networking

Cisco seems to be trying to go on the offensive with SDN, flipping the concept into something that Cisco can best provide or take advantage of.

There's still the possibility that SDN seriously dilutes the power of routers, though, and I wonder how Cisco plans to grapple with that (or try to avoid it).  I'm assuming they'll say more at Cisco Live next month.

netboarder 12/5/2012 | 5:33:45 PM
re: Cisco Broadens Its Software-Defined Networking

Operators, such as NTT, DT, Verizon, all speak the same language (at least according to their ONS presentations )... increase speed of new service delivery, flexibly program the network, and lower capex/opex by using COTS hardware...

On the vendors front, they keep trying (I guess it's mainly Cisco doing the work for the other router vendors) to confine SDN to a smaller part of a bigger picture, i.e not something that'll totally replace their high-end gear.

With all due respect, they've entered the "explanations dimension". Big networks' operators are dreaming to program their networks like this for years. Although still far ahead, with plenty implementation, performance, and scale issues, this vision is not going away by market education. The addition of 'Analytics' and 'Orchestration' doesn't change the role SDN plays in simplifying network gear. I recall Verizon's Elby presentation showing it as critical for business growth.

Data center networking vendors don't really have a choice but to go with the (open) flow. IMHO, although networking equipment is much more strategic to SPs / Carriers than to data centers, and despite the different company culture (less software expertise), it's still a very good strategy to pursue.

chechaco 12/5/2012 | 5:33:44 PM
re: Cisco Broadens Its Software-Defined Networking

I'd argue that applicability of SDN outside of the DC is not given. If SDN positioned as alternative to dynamic routing then it might get challenged with more unstable network environment and time to calculate and instantiate service might become noticeable. If SDN is to be positioned against OSS, then its benefits must overweight obvious capex expenses in re-training operators. Very unlikely.

IMHO, SDN is neither panacea, nor it is answer to all questions. It has its niche and I hope it would not be overreaching to avoid understandable disappointment by adopters.

Soupafly 12/5/2012 | 5:33:43 PM
re: Cisco Broadens Its Software-Defined Networking

I posited the question of capability in a post about Verizon's future landscape vision of SDN and there core business.

Today SDN has a way to go before it can be seen as credible in the access network, let alone the core. In the DC environment you have some specific properties which lend themselves favourably to a SDN deployment. North-South traffic preponderance, large aggregated flows typically in the Gb/s range, Singular destination to typically 1 maybe 2 or 3 locations.

Having said all of the above, the level of scale & capability that now resides in the hardware layer of the network is probably, for the 1st time in history, at a level that would lend itself to SDN and leverage. Huawei just announced a 48Tb switch & others such as Extreme & Brocade to name 2, have similar deliverables. With that kind of firepower within the core hardware, its possible to see how abstracting that and de-coupling certain software components, makes commercial sense and (subject to testing & PoC validation) operational sense.

The implications of Cloud Compute adoption go way beyond instantaneous bandwidth, provisioning and on-demand burst. They stretch across and into the very nature of the data and how its manipulated in real-time via applications or process instances (as they will morph into PI over time) and how those systems are delivered & managed.


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