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Cisco takes fight to SDNs with bold Insieme launch

Cisco buys spin-in for up to $863 million, ratchets up competition with VMware for data center supremacy

By , Network World
November 06, 2013 10:34 AM ET

Network World - Game on: Cisco has acquired spin-in Insieme Networks for up to $863 million depending on revenue targets and rolled out a family of its switches that are the network giant's strategic answer to the growing software defined network movement.

And as expected, that response – Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) -- is largely hardware-based, with a new line of application aware Nexus 9000 switches supporting custom ASICs and/or merchant silicon, depending on what you want to do with it. It also includes a policy controller called Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) for assigning service levels and access privileges to applications, a new version of Cisco’s NX-OS operating system and a multiplicity of big name endorsers. (See our first look slideshow of Cisco's product.)

They include: BMC, Computer Associates, Citrix, EMC, Embrane, Emulex, F5, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, OpsCode, Panduit, Puppet Labs, Niksun, Red Hat, SAP, Splunk, Symantec, VCE and VMware.

Insieme’s launch is sure to heat up competition with VMware, which acquired Nicira for $1.26 billion to virtualize networks the way it virtualizes servers. VMware’s NSX ecosystem includes some of Cisco’s most bitter rivals.

[RSVP: Chambers: Cisco waited too long to address SDNs]

[Insieme FAQ: a few key facts]

Cisco says ACI and its group of allies will provide data centers and cloud providers with unobstructed visibility and integrated management of both physical and virtual networked IT resources built around the needs of applications, which the company says are “the lifeblood of business.” The company says ACI is designed to unify all the component parts of IT – networking, storage, compute, network services, applications, security – and manage them as a single dynamic entity.

Cisco says this ecosystem, combined with APIC’s APIs and some open source acknowledgements, makes ACI “open.” Yet much of that openness apparently depends on whether the APIC is deployed.  

The Nexus 9000 switches can run in either standalone mode with merchant silicon, or ACI mode, with a combination of merchant and custom Cisco silicon. Merchant silicon on the Insieme Nexus 9000 switches will get you open source, OpenFlow and OpenDaylight controllers, and Cisco’s onePK programmability, and other industry understood SDN-friendly hooks like decoupled control and data planes.  

Custom Insieme silicon-based Nexus 9000 hardware will get you Insieme’s anti-SDN: ACI and the APIC controller, with hardware acceleration, deep visibility into application interaction and behavior, and granular service level metrics.

Cisco

ACI incorporates XML, JSON and RESTful APIs to speak with higher level orchestration and automation systems, including OpenStack, Puppet, Chef, CFEngine and Python scripting. These APIs also enable the ACI ecosystem for management, orchestration, monitoring, virtualization, network service, and storage partners, and open up the environment for OpenDaylight, virtual switches and VXLAN, Cisco says.

But the full value of ACI is in the APIC controller, managing Nexus 9000 switches in ACI mode. APIC is  capable of managing 1 million endpoints, Cisco says, and unlike traditional SDN controllers, it operates independently of switch data and control planes – meaning it does not decouple data and control planes.

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