Cisco to reveal pieces of new platform soon

Cisco Systems Inc. will shortly unwrap the first concrete parts of its announced software defined networking strategy, part of a five-year plan to build a new platform allowing enterprises and service providers to better deliver applications over networks.

Two Cisco executives made the promise Wednesday in a video conference call with North American IT reporters as they confidently talked about the company’s strategies and future, claiming it could become the industry leader in infrastructure.

“Among the top six or seven companies that could take this space [Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Cisco] we have a good shot at becoming the number one IT company, with infrastructure simplified to a platform linked to applications and business processes,” said Rob Lloyd president of Cisco’s development and sales.

The upcoming announcement – which Lloyd said will be made within the next 30 days —- will be a toolkit and roadmap for letting developers use an environment Cisco calls onePK, which is a set of application programmable interfaces (APIs) for all of its operating systems, switches and routers.

These APIs will link to software applications for visibility into the Cisco infrastructure to automate task such as optimizing resources.

 “In the next few weeks we will launch a roadmap, with the features and the services that will be available through the onePK,” said Lloyd, “and how customers can begin to imagine using it in use cases so it begins to deliver the simplicity and programmability between the mass infrastructure and the investments they’ve made, the features of IOS, XR and Nexus OS, and how they can begin to simplify their IT stack.”

The promise to create onePK was made in June as part of Cisco’s software defined networking strategy. SDN is an emerging approach to virtualizing networks to automate tasks.

Cisco SDN strategy embraces all approaches
But Lloyd and Cisco executive vice-president and chief development officer Pankaj Patel also said that the onePK announcement will be the start of a bigger effort: To build a new platform to simplify how organizations deliver information technology. Cisco CEO John Chambers talked about this last month with financial analysts.

The idea, Lloyd said “is to streamline the ability of an application to call directly to a network service and begin to provision a capability” – for example, if a person is transmitting an electrocardiogram test of his heart from home to a doctor with a mobile device, the mobile application can set data encryption, quality of service and other network capabilities.

“We do see an opportunity of creating a platform with two layers,” Lloyd said: Infrastructure APIs and application APIs.

Asked why it would take five years to realize this vision, Lloyd said it’s a long term vision. But it should allow Cisco customers to unlock value they have in their existing network infrastructure he said by coming up with new ways of taking advantage of applications and business processes.

Companies such as Cisco, Juniper Networks, Brocade Communications, Alcatel-Lucent and VMware are only just firming up their SDN strategies. There isn’t even complete agreement on what SDN means, although most say it is a way of separating network control plane from the data plane, which forward traffic. Through software, there would be central control of traffic.

Some, Lloyd noted, have predicted that SDN is a threat to hardware-based network equipment makers like Cisco – or, as he put it, see SDN as “the ultimate threat and the final kneecap to Cisco.”

But the company believes SDN “is actually potentially a huge advantage if we unlock the value of $180 billion of (Cisco’s) install base by creating some APIs and interaction to the intelligence we’ve built (in the network) and begin to expose that to applications and business processes.”

In fact Lloyd and Patel took pains to remind the reporters that Cisco is heavily into software, planning do double its annual software revenue over the next five years to $12 billion and grow its service business to at least 25 per cent of revenues, up from 22 per cent.

Also on the call Lloyd said that this year Cisco will simplify licencing of its various communications applications. Cisco offers the cloud-based WebEx audio and video collaboration service, as well as on-premise Unified Communications suite, Contact Centre and Call Centre applications.

“We’re hearing from customers and partners that the separate licencing mechanism that exists for those should be combined,” Lloyd said. So the goal will be to decrease the number of enterprise licence agreements to simplify the way customers can buy Cisco collaboration, “and totally compress the number of licencing and renewal fees”

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