SAN FRANCISCO – Cisco Systems Inc. is known for sometimes going its own way in technology.
It is doing it again, this time on the emerging idea of programming networks for performance, often called software-defined networking.
The company said Wednesday at its Cisco Live conference here it will give customers the choice of adopting three of the most common approaches to network programmability;
“By far this is the industry’s largest support for network programmability,” Sashi Kiran, Cisco’s senior director for data centre, cloud and switching solutions, told reporters.
“We’re in the position to offer the best in each of these areas, an in the position to break the silos across of the three models.
In essence, Cisco is embracing approaches offered by competitors, arguing that it is still early days for software defined networking and that one solution at this point can’t fit all organizations.
Under the umbrella of what it calls the Cisco One Network Environment (or CiscoONE), the company
–will release a developer environment called onePK that will eventually open all of its operating systems, switches and routers to a set of application programmable interfaces (APIs). These APIs can link to software applications for visibility into the Cisco infrastructure to automate task such as optimizing resources.
Strictly speaking, going this route doesn’t create a software-defined network, which decouples network hardware and software. But Cisco says it will allow organizations network programming capabilities;
–will release a proof-of-concept controller software for the Cisco Catalyst 3750-X and 3560-X switches for those who want to build software-defined networks using the OpenFlow API. Cisco says this will appeal to universities and research institutes, who, for example, want to split their networks and use one for experiments;
—will support for those who want to get into network programmability by building overlay networks using the OpenStack approach by expanding capabilities of its Nexus 1000v virtual router.
These solutions will start to be available starting in the fourth quarter.
The Open Network Foundation, which is backing software-defined networking and the OpenFlow API, defines SDN as is an architecture where control and data planes are decoupled, networking intelligence and state are centralized, and the underlying network infrastructure is abstracted from applications.
Cisco insists it isn’t trying to re-define SDN, but allow more flexibility to its customers in adapting network programmability options. It says it will continue to work with standards bodies on what it is doing.
Cisco’s strategy may raise questions among ardent supporters of SDN. There are some who believe that software-controlled networking will make routers and switches commodity devices. As a network equipment manufacturer, “that obviously doesn’t play into Cisco’s long-term roadmap,” observes Bob Laliberte, a networking analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, who is at the conference.
“They’re opening up the way to program Cisco switches without having to commoditize their hardware.”
“I they are embracing the (SDN) concept,” he added. “They see it as an ongoing trend. But they believe it doesn’t necessarily have to be accomplished strictly through an OpenFlow mechanism. And they believe that by leveraging OnePK they can help drive that.”