To get organizations interested in software defined networking the controller will be free

There’s a lot of digital ink being tossed around the benefits of software defined networking, but it may come at the price of upgrading hardware.

Cisco Systems Inc. has decided to give some customers a break: Its upcoming software-based Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) for network automation will have a free Enterprise Module for running on many of its Catalyst, ASR 1000, ISR switches and Wireless LAN Controllers.

APIC itself is for Cisco’s data centre Nexus switches, said Jeff Reed, Cisco’s vice-president of software defined networking (SDN), while the standalone APIC Enterprise Module is more for branch and campus networks using other Cisco hardware.

“We’re not requiring customers to deploy new hardware in order to take advantage of the capabilities in the APIC Enterprise Module,” he explained. That was directly as a result of input from customers who told him they like what SDN offers, but it would be a hard sell if it meant a hardware refresh in the campus or branch than the data centre.

In other words, as Reed says, Cisco was told “you’ll need provide support for the installed base.”

The Enterprise Module is free for existing customers and those with a new Cisco SmartNet or equivalent support contract. For those who don’t want to mount it on their own server Cisco will sell a hardware appliance.

While the Enterprise Module doesn’t need the full controller it works with APIC in mixed environments.

(The Enterprise Module based on the OpenDaylight open source controller kernel. Today the OpenDaylight project announced version 1.0 of its full controller (dubbed Hydrogen) is available for download. It comes in three versions: Base for pilots, Virtualization for data centres and Service Provider).

When the controllers are released, likely near the end of June, Cisco will have a major components of what it calls its application-centric infrastructure (ACI) that will unify and manage networking, storage, compute, network services, applications and security.

The Module includes a network information database, a policy infrastructure and automation.

There are three scenarios the Enterprise Module could be used for, said Reed:

–for security automation. If a laptop running Cisco’s SourceFire intrusion protection software detects a threat it would signal the SourceFire Defense Center management suite, which in turn would send a new policy to the Enterprise Module to quarantine the device. Then it would update virus signatures across the network;

–for quality of service provisioning. Citrix Netscaler, which can peer into a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) session to see what apps are running, could be used to signal the Module to change the QoS of an app;

–to create an intelligent WAN. The Module could be used for intelligent path selection.

One of the advantages of the Enterprise Module version of the controller is it allows organizations to move to what Cisco calls an application-centric infrastructure step-by-step, Reed said. An IT department could even start to use it merely for collecting network data for analytics, he said.

Zeus Kerravala, an industry analyst with ZK Research, said the Module could give Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] a competitive edge over competing network vendors whose SDN solutions mainly target the data centre.

He also noted that while some observers think Cisco’s APICs will create more vendor lock-in the software does have open APIs for competitors to link their products to – although there is some question on how many of them will, Kerravala added.

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