Cisco Expands SDN Offerings With ACI, NX-OS Enhancements

At their Cisco Live event, officials push programmability and automation, and stress the openness of their network offerings.

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Cisco Systems is expanding its broad software-defined networking portfolio with new programmability and automation capabilities.

At the company's Cisco Live 2015 event in San Diego June 10, officials announced the latest release of its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) for its Nexus 9000 switches, a new release of the company's NX-OS operating system for its Nexus 3000 and 9000 switches, and the Virtual Topology System (VTS) for software overlay and provisioning.

Cisco also is introducing new Nexus 3000 switches for scale-out environments. The new offerings and capabilities span across enterprise, mega-scale and service provider data centers, according to company officials.

The expanded portfolio comes at a time when software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) are disrupting the traditional networking market and, according to some analysts, threatening Cisco's profitable hardware business. SDN and NFV remove the control plane and networking tasks from expensive hardware and put it into software, which can run on lower-cost commodity systems. The goal is to create networks that are more agile, programmable and automated.

Industry analysts expect the SDN market to grow rapidly in the coming years. According to Infonetics Research, the SDN space will hit $13 billion by 2019, up from $781 million last year.

Cisco, like other established networking vendors such as Juniper Networks and Hewlett-Packard, is pushing back by rapidly growing out its SDN portfolio. VMware, through its acquisition of startup Nicira and introduction of its NSX platform, also has become a significant player in the space. Cisco has answered with ACI, a combination of hardware and software designed to ensure that applications have the data resources they need.

Company officials have stressed the broad array of APIs available in the portfolio to ensure integration of third-party products as well as the partnerships with three dozen tech vendors—CliQr, which offers application dependency mapping and application deployment automation capability, is the newest ACI ecosystem partner—pushing back at criticism from competitors that ACI is closed and proprietary.

"It's hard to think of what else we could to do make it more open," Jacob Jensen, senior director of product management at Cisco, told eWEEK.

Jensen and other executives also point to the early success of ACI and the Nexus 9000 switch family as validation of the company's vision. There are more than 2,655 ACI and Nexus 9000 customers worldwide, and more than 585 customers of the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), according to Jensen.

ACI is designed for the mass market, which Cisco officials said includes commercial and enterprise deployments as well as the public sector. The company announced new capabilities for the initiatives fabric software, including integration with Microsoft's Azure cloud platform and System Center, a plug-in for VMware's vCenter software, and an ACI toolkit for easier provisioning of the network. In addition, Cisco in the new release—due out this month—is introducing a "stretched" network fabric that can extend from 30km to 150km dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), Pseudo wire and 40GB dark fiber, a capability aimed at organizations building data centers over multiple sites, Jensen said.

The company also is offering a central dashboard that can show data for everything from capacity planning to heat maps, and also offers troubleshooting statistics and tools.

As part of the introduction of the new ACI capabilities, officials also touted a study by IDC analysts that found that Symantec is projecting that it will see a 441 percent return on investment from ACI in five years, and that by deploying the technology, it is speeding up application deployment by 87 percent.