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Some final notes on Cisco Live

A confusing switching strategy, ASIC-based SDNs, and router/server/storage convergence

Some last notes and thoughts from Cisco's Cisco Live conference in Orlando this week, where the company announced new enterprise and data center core switching platforms, spin-in Insieme Networks' "vision" of the next-generation data center, and a new Internet of Things Group...

  • Cisco now has three data center platforms (Nexus 7000, Nexus 7700, Insieme), at least two data center architectures (Insieme Application-Centric Infrastructure, Unified Fabric/FabricPath/Dynamic Fabric Automation) and two enterprise core platforms (Catalyst 6500, Catalyst 6800). How much is too much? Are some of these transitional vs. long-term? Won't customers be confused wrt positioning? Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa believes Insieme will win out over all:

Everything to be obsoleted by Insieme. And the (Cisco) ONE (SDN) controller will probably be obsoleted as well.

Cisco says each platform addresses different customer requirements and adoption cycles. Seemingly overlapping platforms co-exist, the company says. Even though the Nexus 7000 is five years old and has 7 million ports deployed on 40,000 chassis with 8,000 customers, Cisco is still selling Catalyst 6500s into data centers.Insieme will create investment protection for the Nexus portfolio, Cisco says, but it won't say how aside from the 10G cabling that can be used for 40G ports. Cisco would not disclose details on how customers could integrate the Insieme Application-Centric Infrastructure architecture with the Nexus DFA.

  • Cisco has realigned some $460 million from lower growth projects into higher-growth ones, most notably the Internet of Things/Everything initiative. Customers are looking to make the transition to IoT, claims President and COO Gary Moore. Cisco hosted 68 customers from 18 countries to talk about the IoT and how to get there. "Countries are going to get left behind that do not embrace this," Moore said. He also said Cisco is enabling its 68,500 partners - accounting for 380,000 employees - to sell the Internet of Everything concept and product line.  

The Internet of Everything represents the 4th generation of the Internet, Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers said during his Cisco Live keynote address, and the 4th generation will be bigger than the 3 previous generations combined. It's Cisco's plan to digitize everything and every country in the world, and a "chance to change the world," Chambers said.

  • Even though Cisco is spending hundreds of millions on each ASIC it develops - UADP was a $140 million effort, and one coming later this year for the CRS router line cost $200 million - the company says it is also the largest consumer of merchant silicon in the industry. Cisco apparently plans to incorporate both in whatever Insieme will roll out later this year. Combining both equal's "best-of-breed," Cisco says; but you can bet the organically-developed child will be favored over the adopted one.  
  • Custom ASICs play a key role in Cisco programmability strategy, which is to deeply embed software into the hardware. And half the cost of ASICs is software, Cisco President Rob Lloyd said. The UADP ASIC has 1.4 million lines of code. So ASICs are intrinsic in Cisco's programmability strategy as the industry adopts software-defined networking, which many in the industry are pitting against Cisco's dominance. Cisco's responding with Cisco ONE - which has 120 customers now -- and Insieme, while knocking the SDN overlay scenario as lacking vision... literally. Says Lloyd:

The construct is a very appealing concept. But the current constructs are limiting. Just creating a virtual overlay on hardware and software is not creating visibility. You need to bring the full vision of the network into play.

And that's through bi-directional network programming with software-imbued ASICs having as much northbound programmability as the controller has southbound. Five of Cisco's six acquisitions so far this year have been software companies. Much of that software is ending up in programmable ASICs.

  • Cisco sees routing, compute and storage converging. The company plans to put a server-like processing blade into its service provider routers to enhance router orchestration and speed provisioning. And Moore said the fact that there's so many Flash start-ups shows there's a market for storage everywhere: 

The question is timing and cost. But we absolutely see this. Lower level processing and extraction is going to require that.

  • New certifications for Cisco engineers will be coming for a new model of IT based on the unification of architectures through a Unified Platform, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior said during her keynote. The Unified Platform will have northbound and southbound interfaces between the network and applications to facilitate service delivery. Programmability will be bi-directional, she said:

A platform that adjusts to your environment rather than an environment that adjusts to the platform. The network is the central nervous system for IT.

  • If a Unified Platform is the next thing in IT, then Federated Cloud networks are the next big thing, Lloyd said. Cisco's platforms will all be compatible with this roadmap, he said. And to "beat" Warrior to the tagline, he said:

 If the network is the central nervous system, then the data center is the heart.

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