More clarity on SDN’s definition is needed: Cisco

By : |October 15, 2012 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: Shashi Kiran, senior director, Market Management, Data Center/Virtualization and Switching, Cisco, in an interaction with Deepa Damodaran of CIOL, talks on Cisco’s role in the software-defined networking space, and why though the recent VMware-Nicira and Oracle-Xsigo will result in some similarities between the products, it will neither pose a threat nor make Cisco complacent in its stance. Excerpts:

CIOL: What is Cisco’s strategy around software-defined networking and OpenFlow?

Shashi Kiran: Recently Cisco unveiled its Open Network Environment strategy – popularly called Cisco ONE.


Software defined networking (SDN) and OpenFlow are integral aspects of the Cisco ONE strategy. Cisco believes that the strategic nature of the network, the transformative role of data centre and cloud are all causing the industry to look at new ways of delivering simplicity and agility.

As part of this strategy, Cisco announced a comprehensive set of APIs, agents and controllers as well as solutions for virtual overlay networks.

In addition to bringing in network programmability and software defined networking concepts into its portfolio, Cisco is also engaged in standards bodies and consortium. It is chairing workgroups at the Open Network Foundation (ONF), providing updates and participating in OpenStack evolution (with the Quantum plug-in) as well as at mainstream standards bodies such as IETF and IEEE.

Cisco’s strategic roadmap around SDN will also look at educating the workforce to come up to speed on these emerging concepts. The company will also continue to invest in and bring synergy across both hardware and software, drive consistency between physical and virtual and blur the boundaries across network and compute.

CIOL: Will this new strategy mean that a section of your switch and routing gear portfolio will get commoditised?

Shashi Kiran: Commoditization happens when there is no innovation happening. Cisco has been maintaining ‘software-like’ margins in a fairly commoditized Ethernet switching segment for over a decade, because Cisco is continuing to ‘out innovate’ the market and deliver value to customers.

Cisco believes that SDN is an excellent opportunity to further let applications harness the intelligence it builds into its networks, especially at the network edge and top-of-rack.

It will support multiple deployment models that provide tightly integrated control and data planes, loosely coupled models and hybrid models with distributed intelligence. Eventually, Cisco’s approach will be to offer choice, and provide evolutionary approaches that continue to deliver investment protection.

These will be reflected in the overall infrastructure stacks that are build for the data centre and cloud environments, where customers see tremendous value in integrating the different layers of the stack – physical and virtual, and having a tight integration between hardware and software.

CIOL: Are VMware’s SDN Strategy or VMware/Nicira or Oracle/Xsigo acquisitions a threat to Cisco, as they have been dependent on its networking infrastructure for a long time?

Shashi Kiran: Cisco is a veteran in the networking space and over the years has strategically partnered with players such as VMware, Oracle etc. So, while the acquisitions will result in some similarities between the products, it does not pose as a threat in itself.

However, this does not mean that Cisco will be complacent in its stance. It will continue to aggressively drive the right data centre software strategy through its channel ecosystem.


CIOL: Are enterprises ready for SDN?

Shashi Kiran: Traditional enterprises are waiting for some of these emerging models to mature, and also to have a clear sense of how they can evolve to these new architectures based on what they have deployed today.

A majority of them cannot rip and replace and have to take an evolutionary approach. Protocols, such as OpenFlow, require a while to get hardened and offer many of the basic functionalities that are taken for granted in network environments today.

Opensource stacks like Openstack are getting a lot of traction with plug-ins to existing models, and are perhaps most likely to be used to by cloud-builders today with their existing infrastructure for scalable, multi-tenant deployments.

We also expect more clarity to emerge around the definition of SDN in the years ahead, as there are multiple definitions.

CIOL: The lack of programmability in existing networking hardware is a problem. How was this catered to in traditional networking environment so far? What is the need for SDN?

Shashi Kiran: The need for programmability has been felt more acutely only recently, as accelerating adoption of cloud, trends like big data and mobility have necessitated the infrastructure to be more agile and responsive.

Management simplicity to handle changes and to orchestrate, automate at scale are becoming the need of the hour. These were not a big deal in traditional environments a few years ago. The same application-driven networks are perhaps more representative of the change customers are looking for rather than software-defined networks.

Cisco has made several inroads into this area earlier with concepts like application-extension platform (AXP) on the ISR family of routers and via XML APIs. The scale at which Cisco is attempting to bring these capabilities across its entire portfolio, is something that has never been attempted before in the industry, and is expected to be a significant technology as well as cultural shift.

CIOL: Who all will be looking out for SDN?

Shashi Kiran: Cisco has seen several different use-cases for its approach with Cisco ONE. A majority of the requests for OpenFlow are coming in from universities and research institutions. Cloud providers are looking for Openstack enabled offerings. Service provider for massively scalable data centres, Web 2.0 organizations are looking for deep access to network infrastructure via APIs.

While the motivations are all somewhat similar, the use-cases and means are quite a bit different. SDN, as it is defined today, with the de-coupling of control and data-plane, will move through an early adopter model and mature. It is mostly likely to mature quickly in the context of cloud-based deployments.

CIOL: Looking at the vastness of Cisco’s installed base, can you tell us how the technology roll out will carried out? Will it release Cisco ONE in a phased manner? When will Cisco launch this?

Shashi Kiran: Cisco ONE is a phased strategy. We expect OpenStack based offerings with the Nexus 1000V to gain a foothold quickly in cloud-based environments. Similarly, we expect a strong uptake of onePK in massively scalable data centre and service provider environments initially.

Some customers are already engaged in trials with OpenFlow v1.0 on our Catalyst switches and proof of concept controllers. These will obviously continue to evolve. Cisco is backing these technology offerings with training and education programs, which should contribute to smoother adoption.

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