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How will Cisco COPE with SDNs?

Has an architecture to enable programmability at multiple layers, levels

By Jim Duffy on Wed, 05/09/12 - 2:34am.

Cisco's got a software-defined networking (SDN) architecture but it won't say much about it. SDNs are a hot topic industrywide with the promise of abstracting the physical network infrastructure from control of it, enabling more adaptability for things like cloud computing and easier feature extension.

It's also been suggested that such benefits are a threat to Cisco's dominance in networking because opening up the network to programmable control and enhancement takes control away from Cisco and hands it to the user, and might make hardware more of a commodity. But Cisco is working on its own multipronged network programmability strategy, including an investment in start-up/potential spin-in Insieme.

Add an architecture to that strategy. In her keynote address Tuesday morning at Interop Las Vegas, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior mentioned the "Cisco Open Programmable Environment" (COPE - our acronym, not theirs) as Cisco's SDN architecture, which includes APIs at multiple layers -- not just the data and control planes.

"SDNs are driven by new business problems," Warrior said as a preamble to mentioning the COPE architecture. "We think more broadly and holistically about SDNs."

With that, she explained that OpenFlow, an API and protocol that gets all of the SDN glory, is an example of a way to separate the data plane and the control plane in a switched or routed network. Doing so allows the physical network infrastructure to be programmed via software through a separate control element instead of configuring each and every switch and router.

But COPE is designed to instill programmability into the network through APIs at multiple layers, not just at the data and control planes, Warrior said. She briefly showed a slide with a COPE schematic but did not explain or elaborate on it during her broad and holistic keynote, which touched on enterprise megatrends such as mobility, cloud and immersive collaboration.

Warrior was unavailable after her keynote and said to be leaving Las Vegas. Requests for more information on COPE from other Cisco officials were waved off by Cisco PR:

We're not doing any additional interviews with press on our programmable network strategy at this time.  Please be patient and stay tuned - we'll share much more with you when we get closer to the CiscoLive event. 

CiscoLive is June 10-14 in San Diego. 

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