Cisco Uses Software to Bring DNA to Networks

The company is growing its software capabilities to deliver DNA, an architecture designed to help businesses more easily embrace the digital world.

network virtualization

Cisco Systems, known for the past two decades as the world's top vendor of networking hardware, is pushing a bulked up software portfolio as the technology platform that will help customers accelerate the digitization of their businesses.

At the company's Partner Summit 2016 event March 2, Cisco officials introduced the Digital Network Architecture (DNA), a platform that Rod Soderbery, senior vice president for enterprise products and solutions at Cisco, described as an open and software-driven architecture that offers customers a path for delivering everything from network virtualization to orchestration and analytics throughout the network—from the edge back to the data center and cloud.

DNA and its focus on software represents a significant realignment of Cisco's approach to the network, and is a nod to the rapid changes businesses are undergoing. Trends like cloud, mobile computing and a massive growth in data volumes are creating a greater demand for automation, security and compliance in enterprise infrastructures.

"There's really a lot of pressure and demand on the network," Soderbery told eWEEK.

Businesses understand the need to embrace digitization and adopt such technologies as software-defined networking (SDN), network-functions virtualization (NFV), model-driving programming, open APIs and cloud management and orchestration, he said. However, it's been difficult for many companies to bring these technologies in-house. Cisco’s goal with DNA is to make it easier by offering an architecture that integrates the key networking software—virtualization, automation, analytics, cloud service management and open and extensible programmability.

Cisco has been growing its software capabilities in response to increasing demands on the network and the rise of such technologies as SDN and NFV, which decouple the control plane and networking tasks—like load balancing, routing and firewalls—from the underlying hardware. These are put in to software that can run on commodity hardware, including x86 servers and white-box switches.

A couple of years ago, Cisco launched its Open Networking Environment (ONE) initiative for pushing greater programmability to all parts of the network, then launched its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) in response to the growing network virtualization trend. The new DNA architecture takes advantage of both these offerings—at its foundation is the APIC-Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) controller--and is delivered through the Cisco ONE software portfolio, offering software-based licensing and helping with investment protection, officials said.

The architecture is designed to virtualize everything to enable businesses to run any service anywhere, regardless of the underlying platform, whether it's physical or virtual or on-premises or in the cloud. Automation makes it easier to deploy and manage services on the network; analytics give customers insights into their infrastructures, and cloud-based service management can unify policy and orchestration across the network. Open and extensible programming throughout the network enables the integration of Cisco technologies with third-party offerings, APIs and developer platforms to create a growing ecosystem of network-enabled applications, the company said.

Cisco's APIC-EM controller is now generally available and has more than 100 customer deployments, according to Cisco. It can run up to 4,000 devices form a single instance. Cisco also announced new services, including Plug and Play, which runs on Cisco switches and routers and speeds up deployment times from as many as four weeks to a few days, and Easy Quality of Service (EasyQoS), a service that brings dynamic updating of QoS settings throughout the network based on application policy.

In addition, Cisco's Intelligent WAN Automation Services automate the deployment and management of the company's iWAN technology, enabling the configuration and deployment of a full-service branch office in 10 clicks.

Cisco also introduced the Evolved IOS XE network operating system that includes open model-driven APIs for accelerating third-party software development, software-defined management, application hosting, edge computing and abstraction from the physical layer to help drive virtualization. It currently supports Cisco's Catalyst 3850 and 3650, ASR 1000 and ISR 4000 routers, and will be expanded throughout the company's networking portfolio. The new OS also includes NFV support for enterprises.

In the realm of cloud service management, DNA will include CMX Cloud, which offers location and presence information from Cisco wireless infrastructures to enable easier WiFi on-boarding, access to aggregate customer behavior data and improved customer engagement.

APIC-EM and iWAN are available now, while Enterprise NFV will be available later in the first half of the year. CMX Cloud is available now.