NEW YORK—Cisco Systems is continuing its efforts to set the tone in a networking market that is undergoing significant change due to the growth of software-defined networking and the evolving demands from such trends as cloud computing, big data and mobility.
At an event here Nov. 6, Cisco executives, including CEO John Chambers, unveiled the first technologies associated with the company’s Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy, an initiative that they say lays the groundwork for an IT foundation that will enable businesses to rapidly create, provision and deploy applications. Cisco first spoke about ACI at Cisco Live in June.
The products—from new hardware switches to software controllers—are the first fruits from Cisco’s Insieme “spin in” company, which Cisco initially created through a $100 million investment last year. Cisco owned 85 percent of Insieme and executives here announced that it is buying the rest of the company and bringing it into the Cisco fold, a move that will cost $863 million.
“I would like to welcome the founders and entire Insieme team to Cisco,” Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco, said during the event here. “It’s going to be quite a ride together.”
That ride will include ensuring that Cisco can address the changing networking demands in the data center and the rise of software-defined networking (SDN) while protecting its massive business of selling high-end physical switches and routers. SDN promises to create more flexible, dynamic and cost-effective networks by removing the network intelligence from the underlying physical hardware and putting it into software.
Organizations can program and manage the network infrastructure through the software, with SDN proponents arguing that will mean businesses can use less-complex and less-expensive switches and routers, creating a threat to not only Cisco, but other established networking vendors, such as Juniper Networks.
Such vendors, including Cisco, Juniper and Hewlett-Packard, are growing their SDN capabilities, while a range of startups, such as Big Switch Networks and Plexxi, are coming out with their own offerings. In addition, tech vendors like VMware—through its $1.26 billion acquisition last year of startup Nicira—are looking to build SDN capabilities while growing their enterprise IT offerings. VMware made a significant push into the SDN space with the release in August of its NSX platform.
Cisco has begun to build out its own answer to SDN, including the Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE), the onePK collection of APIs and support for such open protocols as OpenFlow, and officials said ONE will be a key part of ACI. However, executives have argued that the kind of dynamic and programmable networks that are needed can’t be accomplished only with software, that optimized hardware—from switches to routers to silicon—also is needed.
It was an argument Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of marketing at Cisco, said during an address here explaining the company’s ACI vision. Organizations are demanding networks that are agile, automated, secure, open, scalable and less complex, and through which they can easily manage both their physical and virtual infrastructures as a single entity.
“This is not going to be possible if you’re only focusing on software,” Jiandani said. “If you could do it only in software, we would have it a long time ago.”
Cisco Launches First Application-Centric Offerings
Cisco’s initial offerings for its ACI efforts include a new family of Nexus 9000 switches, which offer a range of 1 Gigabit Ethernet, 10GbE and 40GbE configurations, and is ready for 100GbE when it comes to the data center, Chambers said. In addition, the CEO introduced the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), the management engine that can scale to 1 million endpoints and unifies the management of the physical and virtual environments.
Unlike SDN controllers, the APIC is independent of the switch data and control planes, allowing for greater speed and flexibility, Cisco officials said. It also can be used to manage not only networking elements of the data center, but also compute and storage.
The switches and controller are only the beginning, with future capabilities in such areas as network-wide services and greater controller capabilities, Cisco’s Lloyd said.
The result of ACI will be networks that are more responsive to the needs of applications, and that will be more agile, flexible and cost-effective. It also will be open, supporting such standards efforts as OpenStack and enabling third-parties to integrate it with their own products, according to Cisco officials. At the event here, Cisco had support from a range of vendors, from Microsoft and Citrix Systems to EMC and NetApp, who said they would embrace the ICA effort in their products.
Cisco also noted that legacy technologies, like its Nexus 7000 switches, also would be able to tie into the ICA.
Officials with Hewlett-Packard, which is the world’s second-largest networking vendor behind Cisco, criticized its larger rival’s efforts for missing the mark laid out by SDN.
“Once again, Cisco ignores the software-defined networking (SDN) movement and instead seems to continue their focus on creating a ‘hardware-defined’ alternative (HDN) that locks customers into a proprietary Cisco network—denying customers the economic and game-changing simplification, automation and application development benefits promised by SDN,” HP Networking CTO Dave Larson said in a statement.
Larson said HP differentiates itself with wide support for the OpenFlow protocol and solutions that support both HP as well as third-party infrastructures.