Cisco Gives Customers More Options to ACI

The networking giant brings support for the BGP EVPN VXLAN overlay protocol to its Nexus 9000 networking switches.


Cisco Systems is looking to broaden the options for businesses that want to move to an open software-defined networking environment but are not yet ready for its entire Application Centric Infrastructure portfolio.

The networking giant is bringing support for the BGP EVPN (Border Gateway Protocol – Ethernet Virtual Private Network) overlay protocol to its Nexus 9000 Series switches, which are the foundation of its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) solution. The goal is to offer businesses another step on their way to a full API implementation, or a way to build out an SDN infrastructure based on Cisco technology without having to embrace ACI.

"We want to offer some choice for customers and to give them the ability and flexibility to scale," Craig Huitema, director of marketing, data center and cloud networking at Cisco, told eWEEK.

The BGP EVPN VXLAN overlay support will officially be announced Feb. 6 and will be available in the Nexus 9000 switches this month, according to Cisco officials. Support for the protocol in Cisco's Nexus 7000 switches and ASR 9000 series routers will come in the second quarter.

The move to SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV) is changing how networking technology is bought and deployed. Both offer the promise of highly scalable, agile and programmable networks by removing the control plane and networking tasks—like firewalls and intrusion detection—from the underlying hardware and putting them into software, where they can run on low-cost commodity hardware.

Established infrastructure players as well as smaller startups are building out their capabilities as businesses test and begin deploying SDN and NFV in their data centers. Cisco's answer to SDN has been its ACI offering, which offers a combination of open and optimized hardware and software that essentially ensures that workloads get the networking resources they need. Keys to ACI include the Nexus 9000 switches and the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), which helps unify the physical and virtual infrastructures in the data center.

Cisco introduced ACI in November 2013, and the company now has more than 1,000 customers of the Nexus 9000 and ACI technologies, Huitema said. More than 200 customers have signed onto APIC, which was released in the fall 2014, and the ACI effort has 35 ecosystem partners.

However, Cisco officials wanted to give businesses another option outside of traditional two- and three-tiered networks and ACI, he said. Putting support for the BGP EVPN VXLAN overlay protocol is that third choice.

"We wanted to acknowledge the fact that different customers are in different places [in their journey to SDN] and we wanted to give them different options," Huitema said.

BGP is a routing protocol developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), while EVPN is a Layer 2 VPN technology drafted by such vendors as Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei and Juniper Networks, as well as network operators AT&T, Verizon and Bloomberg, for the IETF, according to Cisco officials.

VXLAN, originally developed by Cisco, VMware and Arista Networks, is a multivendor overlay technology for scalable cloud networks. The key to VXLAN is making sure it's implemented in a way that allows it to scale to handle the growing amount of traffic running over the network, including traffic generated by mobile devices, Huitema said. VXLAN can scale to 16 million endpoints, but needs a control plane to work most efficiently for host and endpoint discovery rather than using a flood-and-learn approach. The Nexus 9000 support for BGP EVPN XLAN overlay gives it the control-plane protocol.

In addition, by removing complexity, it more easily enables large-scale deployments of overlay networks, according to Cisco officials.

The support for the technologies in the Nexus 9000 switches enables customers to integrate their networks with third-party overlay controllers, according to Cisco officials. The EVPN VXLAN controller can be used on a traditional Nexus 9000 switch as a stand-alone technology, or with Cisco's APIC controller within an ACI environment, Huitema said. It also will support EVPN VXLAN technology in such network topologies as spine-leaf, third-tier aggregation and full mesh, and work with a range of top-of-rack switches and WAN equipment, according to Cisco officials.