Cisco/Insieme ushering in hardware-defined networks

By , Network World |  Networking, Cisco, SDN

Cisco is adamant that its upcoming Application Centric Infrastructure launch is not about SDNs.

Rather, call it Hardware-Defined Networking. And who can blame Cisco for proposing HDNs while dismissing the industry momentum towards software-defined networks -- Cisco owns better than 65% of the enterprise hardware infrastructure out there, and SDNs present a threat to its dominance and profits.

ACI, which is being developed and productized by Cisco spin-in Insieme Networks, focuses on programming the physical infrastructure-based service as well as the hypervisor-based virtual environment, said Frank D'Agostino, senior director of technical marketing and solutions engineering at Insieme. D'Agostino delivered a vendor technical presentation at this week's Interop conference and exhibition in New York, and Cisco is expected to launch Insieme's Nexus 9000 line in about a month.  

[CHAMBERS:Cisco waited too long to address SDNs]

"We want to program the physical service the same as a virtual service," D'Agostino said, in explaining ACI's focus on applications in data centers, and applications and tenants hosted by cloud providers.

With that, D'Agostino reiterated all the reasons Cisco and its 80%-owned subsidiary believe SDNs and "software-only overlays," an apparent reference to partner-turned-rival VMware, fall woefully short in virtualizing the network:

  • Loss of visibility between the application service and the network;
  • Lack of scalability;
  • Hypervisor-dependent;
  • Focusing on a "small subset" of programmability applicable only to "one-eighth" of the data center;
  • Pricing on a per-VM basis.

"If you're paying per VM for network virtualization, you're wasting your company's money," D'Agostino said.

ACI blends software with merchant silicon and custom ASICs in physical hardware that's optimized for availability of service, be it virtual or bare metal, he said. It provides an automated common operational model through a "unified" northbound/southbound RESTful API based on XML/JSON languages.

APIs will be published and will not require an SDK, an apparent dig at rival HP, which this week unveiled an SDN SDK and App Store.

"There's no 'closedness' in how you access the system," D'Agostino said.

Application connectivity requirement policies and data models in ACI are not tied to a physical device, but are logical; they can be dynamically provisioned and directly mapped to the infrastructure, D'Agostino said. Servers and top-of-rack switches can be changed without requiring associated re-definition of those models, he said.

In short, ACI supports any application, hypervisor and physical edge with the visibility of hardware and no per-VM tax, D'Agostino claims.

"We don't want the application to be network aware; we want the network to be application aware," he said. "Every application will be fully-audited from Day 1."

And this, he said, is why ACI is not SDN.

"We're not a software overlay on a shim trying to solve a problem that's three years old," D'Agostino said, cautioning customers who are considering the myriad SDN techniques for network programmability and virtualization: "You'll have to support all SDN models if you go that route."

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 27 years, 22 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.

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