Cisco software defined-networking products on tap in June

Cisco officials promise "significant" programmability rollouts at CiscoLive

Cisco will make software defined-networking (SDN) product announcements at its CiscoLive conference in June that will show initial steps in how it plans to roll out the fledgling technology.

The products are expected to adhere to Cisco's new Open Programmable Environment for Networking, or Cisco OPEN, SDN architecture. Though product details are unavailable, one of the products may include Cisco Connect, which is designed to improve cloud computing connectivity for branch offices.

Cisco will be making significant product announcements at CiscoLive," said Shashi Kiran, senior director of Data Center/Virtualization and Enterprise Switching at Cisco, in a wrap-up of prepared remarks during a conference call this week conducted by investment firm Morgan Stanley. "This is a good transition point for the industry."

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Cisco has also promised to add OpenFlow to its Nexus data center switches. And start-up/Cisco spin-in Insieme Networks is developing what many believe is the next generation of Cisco's Nexus switching line, with programmability hooks.

"Insieme fits into our strategy; it does not define it," said David Ward, chief architect and CTO of Cisco's Service Provider division.

Cisco's multipronged SDN strategy was reiterated by Kiran and Ward during the conference call. The officials stressed that SDNs will augment current network and Internet functionality -- not replace it - and that customers will adopt various flavors of SDNs based on their particular needs or requirements.

"I'm not sure there is a killer application for SDNs that can't be achieved in architectures today," said Kiran "Its promise is simplification."

Enterprises could use it to virtualize workloads and implement virtual desktop environments, and orchestrate security profiles for private cloud automation, Ward said. He then outlined the Cisco OPEN architecture, the same one previewed by CTO Padmasree Warrior in her Interop keynote earlier this month.

Cisco OPEN, which is also expected to be officially introduced at CiscoLive, is intended to open up the network with APIs at layers other than just the data and control plane, which is where the popular OpenFlow protocol is targeted. Cisco's SDN architecture harvests network intelligence from the infrastructure, delivers it to an analytics engine which then churns it into orchestration routines for policies, which are then programmed back into the network infrastructure.

Cisco says this architecture will apply to all flavors of SDNs - from direct APIs between applications and the network; to controllers governing OpenFlow-enabled devices and other agents; to virtual overlays between applications and the physical and virtual network.

In this scenario, OpenFlow is but one of many protocols and APIs that can be used to implement SDNs, Cisco officials stressed. And instead of commoditizing its hardware, as many in the industry expect, Cisco says SDNs will create more value for Cisco's ASICs, operating systems, software-based services and partner applications.

"Commoditization happens when you don't deliver value," said Kiran.

Added Ward on SDNs: "It will redefine where we are as a software vendor. It will redefine our software business."

But the benefits for enterprises may have to wait a while. SDNs are a nascent market and the potential of programmability may be currently limited to the more extensive resources and requirements of service providers.

"Overall, SDN promises easier provisioning and simplified management, particularly for service providers such as Verizon and Rackspace," states Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum in a bulletin on SDNs. "For now, we believe SDN and OpenFlow still require IT organizations to have substantial technical and engineering capabilities to deploy and as such, remains out of reach for most IT managers."

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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