Cisco’s SDN Architecture Shrinks Down to the Campus

Cisco Insieme SDN Milan Campus Enterprise ACI Gray

Cisco is taking Insieme and the Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) to the campus and branch-office networks, offering a slightly different version of the architecture.

The announcement is being made at the company’s Cisco Live event in Milan on Tuesday — that’s Tuesday night Milan time and early Tuesday morning back home in California.

Campus and access ACI can’t be quite the same as data-center ACI. The data center is an environment of continual churn, where some switch or server somewhere is always getting replaced. In branch and campus networks, by contrast, “it’s imperative for us to protect their installed base,” says Jeff Reed, vice president of SDN and manageability for Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Group.

But the branch and campus could still benefit from agility offered by SDN. Among the possible applications is a level of automated security, where the controller could move virus-infected laptops into quarantine. Another possible example is being shown in Milan with partner Citrix, using the Netscaler platform to tell the controller to scale quality of service (QoS) up or down for a virtual desktop session depending on network conditions and/or the application being used.

SDN Comes to Catalyst

To that end, Cisco is announcing the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) Enterprise Module for the Catalyst switches, ASR routers, and Cisco’s wireless LAN controllers. Put another way, the Insieme SDN architecture is getting spread beyond the Nexus data-center switches and into some of Cisco’s older architectures, including the bread-and-butter Catalyst line.

One major difference from the data-center APIC: The enterprise version will be available as an appliance, as well as in pure software. About one-fourth of enterprise customers seem to prefer getting an appliance, Reed says.

The Enterprise Module is free to the customers that already have a technical support contract with Cisco (a SmartNet contract, as Cisco calls it). What Cisco would get out of these free deals is a wider dissemination of ACI; even if customers don’t use it right away, they’d have it available on the shelf, so to speak.

Like the data-center APIC, the Enterprise Module is due to be available in the second quarter. Cisco is announcing a few partners whose software works with the APIC Enteprise Module, including ActionPacked Networks, Citrix, Glue Networks, and Radware.

Heading Northbound

Cisco is also announcing some northbound APIs. It’s true that standardized northbound APIs are likely to emerge eventually — the Open Networking Foundation is studying the idea — but Cisco needs something more immediately, a common language that the data center and campus networks can share.

So, Cisco is releasing the ONE Dev Kit (“ONE” referring to Cisco’s Open Networking Environment concept), which is essentially this set of northbound APIs for independent software vendors (ISVs) to use.

Cisco insists this is not an attempt to hijack the northbound interface for itself. The work on the interface itself is being shared at OpenStack and includes some proposals Cisco has submitted to the group. As for the data model that the northbound interfaces depend on, Cisco has been going through the IETF request for comments (RFC) process to try to get a model standardized. Data models also comprise “the guts of the work in OpenDaylight,” Reed says.

Enter InterCloud

Separately, Cisco is announcing a set of cloud initiatives, all keying on the theory that the hybrid cloud will win out and that IT’s job will be to broker the services that occupy private and public clouds.

  • InterCloud is Cisco’s new framework for moving applications between public and private clouds as appropriate. It can also move workloads to Cisco-based cloud providers — BT, CenturyLink (Savvis), Telstra, and Virtustream are the providers listed in Tuesday’s announcement.
  • Through APIs, Cisco can also include other public clouds in InterCloud. Specifically, that means Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are included, both of them using their own APIs to participate. Cisco can also provide the necessary APIs itself, as it’s doing with Rackspace.
  • Cisco intends to offer more cloud-based services, in a sense becoming a SaaS provider. InterCloud is one example. Another is the Cloud Consumption service, which just lists what services are running on corporate hybrid clouds. “When we ran this internally, we discovered hundreds of services that we didn’t know about,” says Giuliano Di Vitantonio, Cisco’s vice president of marketing for data center and cloud.
  • Cisco’s Prime network management has been integrated with Red Hat‘s OpenShift management, which is available as part of OpenStack. It’s part of a generally deeper relationship Cisco is fostering with Red Hat.

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