Most SDN OpEx benefits can be realized by automating existing use cases, Cisco says

Customers have less than 5% of basic connectivity automated, so benefits come quick. A Q&A with Cisco’s Frank D’Agostino

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Keep in mind NSX is an application, not a network. Customers must buy a network for NSX to operate in a network and every customer is buying hardware VTEP’s for SDN. ACI supports NSX as an application better than any other network in the industry, so it’s not an either/or. NSX doesn’t provide SDN for all interfaces, even on their own hypervisor, so we can show customers why they don’t necessarily need it, but it is the customer choice and we enable customers, not limit them.

There are also some marketing charades going on relative to what is open and what isn’t. NSX is an open-by-invitation-only platform, and what I mean by that is, if you have an SDN LAN emulation controller like NSX, they require a tight coupling between the controller application itself and whatever the endpoint is that’s doing the tunnel termination. Customers have long delays waiting for VMware to deliver features as proprietary extensions beyond the limits of OVSDB schema available in the market. VMware requires you to register in their lab, wait for their engineers to work on any development or scale testing, which they prioritize and resource. There is nothing about this that is open.

It really seems like an unlikely stance for VMware given the Nicira roots, which had a lot of contributors, and in fact even built the first Xen DVS and Open vSwitch. OVS is not supported in VMware, at least in the current NSX release.

Looking deeper, VMware restricts which versions of products they support versus others. So they just published vSphere 6 KB and VMware does not support the Nexus 1000V application virtual switch mode in vSphere 6 or any other version. And if you contrast that to what Cisco is doing by fully publishing all of the interfaces and the APIs and allowing anybody to integrate, you start getting some clarity around exactly what VMware is doing relative to creating a closed platform where they try and control the integration.

This is why customers are trying to break this model and move to an environment where you interconnect multiple domains in an open way, leveraging protocols like EVPN as a control plane for VXLAN, and then you can call directly into a master platform. And the nice thing about this for everybody is that if the customer loves NSX or they love Nuage or they love HP or Cisco or anybody else, they can have it, but they no longer have to be locked into these proprietary models.

The largest customers that have deployed SDN are moving to this model and away from the first generation lock-in of SDN LAN emulation controllers.

Isn’t it easier for VMware to get SDN going, though?

NSX obviously has dependencies on hypervisors, and there are a lot of functions a hypervisor can implement. So they have the VMs themselves, and the vNICs, and there’s also a management interface and an interface for IP storage and vMotion and applications, etc. But as customers start deploying these models they realize that the only SDN that’s provided by VMware is for the data interfaces and vNICs. They leave out vMotion, they leave out the management network. And so customers pursuing a VMware SDN find they have one-third of a strategy, but all the rest of the interfaces are left out. And as customers realize these implementation issues, they start asking themselves, “Why am I doing this in the hypervisor in the first place?”

How would you classify where we are in terms of SDN acceptance at this point? Obviously it’s still the early stages, but what does the acceptance curve look like?

I think the vendor wars are still causing confusion for customers and, being a vendor, we’re part of that, of course. However, I will tell you that based on the number of RFPs and the exchanges I’m having with customers, everyone wants automation, SDN security and visibility. And you can tell by some of the growth numbers we’ve been reporting that the uptake is significant. I wouldn’t say it’s a slow start. I think it’s the way all networks are going to be built moving forward and I think Cisco obviously is looking at a clear leadership position.

So RFPs are coming in that require the basic control of SDN, but when would you expect SDN to really hit its stride?

We’re squarely in the middle of it now. You’ve seen the revenue we’ve had over a number of quarters and the growth. All networks from Cisco now are programmable, they expose and completely open the APIs and they allow you to take advantage of things like VXLAN and programmability and automation, so this is just a basic function of all networking from Cisco moving forward.

It’s not another segment or a certain part of the market or a trend. It’s just a basic feature or functions of all networks moving forward. That’s why the industry is moving past the first generation SDN LAN emulation controllers because every merchant silicon ASIC today has 70%-90% of those original use cases built in, and that’s another reason why you see vendors like VMware moving beyond a basic value prop and trying to tell a different story.

The last question here, what changes with SDN going forward?

I think there are a few things. Customers have a large amount of infrastructure in the data center, where we squarely started, but this group-based policy model can extend to all points in the network, including the campus and the wide area and the branch.

We’re seeing an open environment accelerating around SDN. Common group-based policy models extend from controllers inside a data center to multiple domains, whether it’s into the campus, into the wide area or into a branch or virtual branch. Customers are starting to drive SDN across to all endpoints of the infrastructure with an automation model that that’s under a common controller architecture or a federated controller architecture, that’s where I see the big shift moving forward.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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