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Cisco enterprise boss reports on programmability

Catalyst 3850 in an academic OpenFlow exercise; its chip on the Cat 4K later this year; and why we're more like Juniper

The Catalyst 3850 switch with Cisco's programmable Unified Access Data Plane (UADP) ASIC and Cisco ONE APIs is in early adopter OpenFlow deployments with academia, reports Rob Soderbery, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Enterprise Networking Group. Once the 3850 is "fleshed out" other platforms will inherit Cisco ONE programmability hooks, he says.

The UADP might beat the software architecture to those platforms. The Catalyst 4500 will get the chip in the latter half of this year, Soderbery says, and the Catalyst 6500 will be evaluated after that.

UADP rollouts are "a separate thread" from that of Cisco ONE, Soderbery said. Cisco will be showing Cisco ONE applications for the campus at Cisco Live in June.

[A COMPETITOR'S PERSPECTIVE: Juniper switching boss talks technology challenges, Cisco Nexus 6000]

In sizing up the SDN competition, Soderbery says Cisco has more in common with Juniper than with "OpenFlow purist" HP: a mix of centralized and distributed decision making and forwarding vs. the distinctly decoupled forwarding and control in an OpenFlow architecture.

SDN would be an overlay on top of that.

"If you need to reinvent all of networking on top of OpenFlow, you have a long road in front of you," Soderbery said. "By layering SDN on, you get all the benefits without losing the functionality."

As for Juniper, the introduction of the EX9200 switch might provide an opportunity for Cisco to pick up share, Soderbery notes. Existing Juniper EX8200 customers face a total core replacement if they choose to upgrade to the EX9200, a situation likely to cause some to consider other vendors.

"Juniper's been losing momentum in the campus," he said, adding Cisco did not have a specific program for Juniper EX8200 customers but a global program to gain port share.

And as for the role OpenDaylight SDNs might play in the enterprise? It's for multivendor network management.

"Campuses love Cisco architecture but the will also deploy other vendors," Soderbery said. "SDN is really a manageability and security play."

Speaking of SDN, the Insieme spin-in might show its cards later this year. Rumor has it, some high-level Cisco customers have already seen it and perhaps changed some buying decisions based on what they've seen.

Soderbery says he's seen no drop-off in Catalyst orders based on what Insieme might have developed.

"We don't see any impact from Insieme" on Catalyst orders, he said. "Our positioning is very clear: Catalyst campus, Nexus data center."

So what can we expect from Cisco at next week's Interop conference? A plan to better attack niche vertical markets.

Cisco is intent on continuing to hone its product line into vertical application-specific architectures customized for that market, be it utility, manufacturing, education, etc. Product packaging and deployment options will be optimized for a particular vertical market, Soderbery says.

Noting that IT's role in helping to run a business is currently "tactical," Cisco is looking to make it more strategic by learning about the business itself.

"Cisco is investing in learning about the applications being rolled out," Soderbery says. "There's a new generation of applications leveraging IT to run the business."

Soderbery said he would expand on those plans during his Interop keynote address.  

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