Cisco ends the SDN suspense

SAN DIEGO -- At long last, the wait - and suspense - is over.

Cisco today rolled out its vision and architecture for instilling programmability throughout a Cisco network - a blueprint the company says goes far beyond the OpenFlow and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) schemes most competitors are proposing.

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BACKGROUND: Critical milestones in Cisco history

Cisco's strategy is called the Open Network Environment, or Cisco ONE, previously referred to as Cisco OPEN or COPE. Cisco ONE is designed to enable Cisco networks to be flexible and customizable to meet the needs of newer networking and IT trends such as cloud, mobility, social networking and video.

Cisco unveiled the architecture at the CiscoLive! user conference here this week.

Cisco ONE includes APIs, agents and controllers, and overlay network technologies designed to make each layer of a network - from the transport layer up through the management and orchestration layers - programmable in order to make it adaptable and extensible to changing needs.

This differs, Cisco says, from more commonplace approaches to SDNs in which the control plane is decoupled from the forwarding plane and OpenFlow is used as an API, agent and protocol to command switches from an external controller.

Cisco says Cisco ONE complements this approach by opening up areas above and below the control and forwarding planes addressed by OpenFlow. This allows customers to program the network using a variety of protocols - not just OpenFlow - and further customize it according to their usage patterns and deployment models.

Cisco ONE includes the One Platform Kit (onePK) which provides APIs for developers across Cisco's routing and switching operating systems: IOS, IOS-XR and NX-OS. Cisco onePK support will roll out on Cisco platforms in phases, with initial support on the ASR 1000 and ISR G2 routers. The Cloud Connector software that Cisco unveiled this week for those routers supports onePK APIs for third-party development, the company says.

Cisco also unveiled proof-of-concept controller software and proof-of-concept OpenFlow v1.0 agent for its Catalyst 3750-X and 3560-X switches for SDN research.

Cisco last fall promised to support OpenFlow on its Nexus data center switches but found in the ensuing months that OpenFlow has less appeal in the data center and more in academia and research, company officials said.

Other components of Cisco ONE include its Nexus 1000V virtual switch, which the company says can be used as the basis of virtual overlay networks for multi-tenant cloud deployments. Nexus 1000V now supports OpenStack Quantum and REST APIs for multi-tenant orchestration, open source hypervisors and a VXLAN gateway connecting physical VLAN and virtual networks.

VXLAN is a network encapsulation technique with segment identifiers for creating millions of logical networks and for enabling workloads to move across data centers and cloud infrastructures. The networking segments will support multitenant cloud infrastructures that require segmentation for security and compliance, Cisco says.

The Nexus 1000V will also now support policy-based, per-tenant virtual security services on VXLAN-based overlay networks.

Cisco ONE is designed to support a variety of deployment model for programmability, including network partitioning, or 'slicing,' in universities and research using OpenFlow agents and controllers; network flow management for massively scalable data centers; automated provisioning and programmable overlay networks for the multi-tenancy requirements of cloud providers; programmatic policy and analytics for service providers; and private cloud automation for virtual workloads in enterprises, including desktop virtualization.

Beta trials and phased general availability are scheduled to begin the fourth quarter of 2012.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "Cisco ends the SDN suspense" was originally published by Network World.

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