Cisco stays the network virtualization course

Plays down impact of recent consolidation, promises to lead "evolution" and disclose more

Cisco this week responded to all the scuttlebutt in the industry around big data center vendors buying network virtualization companies, and the impact it will have on Cisco in terms of competition and partnerships. Cisco partner VMware bought Nicira, which is looking to disrupt the status quo of Cisco networking dominance, for $1.26 billion; and server competitor Oracle acquired LAN/storage convergence nemesis Xsigo Systems.

The deals indicate just how important networking is in the converged data center/cloud infrastructure market, and in particular how vital it is to virtualize the network along with servers and storage. Observers expect more consolidation to occur, perhaps putting more pressure on Cisco to respond or defend.

Or not. In a blog post this week, Cisco Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior reiterated that Cisco believes it will set the course for network virtualization and programmable networking, including that facilitated by software-defined networking:

Cisco understands very well the requirements and opportunities driven by network virtualization and is driving this market evolution.

She then went on to outline the five addressable market pillars of the Cisco ONE architecture and its onePK interface kit, and how it's addressing today's virtualization, programmability and SDN requirements of cloud and service providers, data centers, enterprises, and research and academia. She also noted the progress of Cisco engineers within standards bodies in articulating what needs to be done in evolving the Internet to SDN - or vice versa:

This week senior Cisco engineers delivered a plenary at the Internet Architecture Board  on Programmatic Internet. This advanced the discussion on network programmability by capturing the problem statement, issues with SDN architectures as they are defined today, and interfaces required to the Internet to evolve the SDN model. There is a lack of standards to many of these features, which will hamper customer adoption if left unaddressed.

And she also played down the impact of SDNs in commoditizing network hardware, and the role of OpenFlow as a programmable network panacea. SDNs and network virtualization, she says, will not commoditize network hardware because these architectures depend on the core infrastructure to enable security and high performance at scale.

To be clear, there will be new business models and new architectures for infrastructure, but SDN no more minimizes the underlying infrastructure than a new steering wheel undermines the importance of a car engine.

With OpenFlow, Cisco sees a very limited role and even more limited market - research and academia, solely -- for the open source protocol and API:

We continue to work with many of our counterparts in the industry to evolve Internet capabilities to address issues that cannot, for instance, be delivered by OpenFlow. A good example is the recent draft on defining the problem statement to enable Interfaces to the Routing system, as well as the associated framework. Such efforts will continue.

Cisco sees OpenFlow as a "southbound" interface from the orchestration layer telling the network what to do. But a key component of Cisco ONE is the "northbound" interface from the network to the orchestration layer, in effect letting the network tell the orchestration layer to tell it what to do.

But the elephant in the room is VMware. People want to know if VMware, a longtime Cisco collaborator, will now be more of a competitor now that Nicira is coming under its fold. And whether that competition will disengage the Cisco/VMware partnership.

Warrior never said in her blog that the partnership will continue unabated. But she did touch generally on the shifting competitive landscape:

we expect to see new competitors. As we often say at Cisco, if you don't have good competitors, then you're probably in the wrong markets.

And she also promised more information to come from Cisco on its strategy for network virtualization and SDN. Perhaps the Insieme spin-in is the next shoe to drop...

More from Cisco Subnet:

Cisco joins video interoperability group

Cisco reseller finds half of enterprise networks obsolete

Cisco extends server line

Cisco has some more company is SDNs

Cisco on why OpenFlow alone doesn't cut it

Cisco's own BYOD policies and practices helped kill Cius

Juniper confines SDNs to data center

Cisco ends the SDN suspense

What are the killer apps for software-defined networks?

Chambers: We Should Have Killed Cius Earlier

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