Cisco Systems, which has a history steeped in networking hardware, is now looking to software developers to push the company forward.
With a strong shift in the data center toward software—due in large part to such trends as cloud computing, mobility, the Internet of things (IoT) and software-defined networking (SDN)—traditional hardware vendors like Cisco, Dell and Hewlett-Packard are becoming more focused on software and services, and the role of programmers is becoming increasingly more important.
Cisco is rolling out a new software developer program designed to encourage ISVs, customers, system integrators and channel partners to build applications that can run in Cisco-based data center environments.
Through its new DevNet community, Cisco will give programmers everything they need to build the software, from open APIs and software-development kits (SDKs) to tutorials, developer sandboxes and an avenue for them to communicate with each other. Writing software for networks is a new step for many developers, according to Susie Wee, senior vice president and CTO of networked experiences at Cisco.
"Traditionally, developers struggled to marry software applications with networking hardware; the network simply wasn’t software-friendly and programmable," Wee wrote in a post on the company blog. "Today the development environment is rich and ready to take advantage of the open and intelligent network. As a result, developers now have a huge opportunity to monetize and differentiate their offerings using the network."
Cisco officials view the network as the foundation of the key transitions going on in the data center, from cloud to mobility to the IoT (or what the networking vendor calls the Internet of everything), and software will be key in expanding that foundation. According to Wee, the company is "using DevNet as the delivery vehicle for our Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) approach to SDN. Currently, the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC EM) for WAN and access edge is in beta. When available, customers and developers can download APIC EM via DevNet at no charge."
At the Cisco Live 2014 event in May, the company featured the DevNet Zone, and developer interest in it was high, she said.
The key efforts in DevNet include API development around such areas as SDN, IoT, collaboration, connected mobility and security. There are more than 100 APIs in the DevNet portal now, and more are being added each week, Wee said. Through a partnership with Mulesoft, Cisco also is building API management capabilities, giving developers better access to REST-based APIs.
Development tools include SDKs, tutorials and a developer sandbox that "eliminates the cost and time of acquiring lab equipment and the technical staff to maintain it. Additionally, it allows developers to test application use cases before deployment," Wee wrote.
Finally, Cisco is looking to build a community of developer evangelists, developer support engineers and community managers to help software developers in their work.
DevNet is part of a larger software strategy at Cisco that includes in-house development and outside acquisitions around everything from security to collaboration to SDN.
Cisco's new developer community is getting reaction from at least one competitor. Randy Cross, senior director of Avaya Networking, said in an email to eWEEK that it is important for networking vendors to partner with software developers. That already is being done, through enhancements to toolkits like Avaya's Aura Collaboration Environment—which developers can use to integrate their applications into Avaya's unified communications platform—and participation in the growing number of standards organizations like OpenStack, the OpenDaylight Project and the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF).
"Vendors are looking to expose the capabilities of the infrastructure to developers through open interfaces; thus, allowing them to leverage it like CPU or memory resources in a server today," Cross wrote. "Ultimately, this is the type of evolution required to elevate user experience and enable the next IT lead advancement in business productivity."
He noted that Avaya's current Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) Fabric Connect, which is designed to make network configuration and services deployment easier, is based on the IEEE/IETF-defined Shortest Path Bridging networking technology.