Cisco Live 2015 has come and gone, having largely focused on the company’s future – IoT/E (Internet of Things/Everthing), Fast IT, and a new executive team. Even the technology announcements primarily revolved around how Cisco sees the future unfolding: Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), leading the company’s SDN (software defined networking) measured response, and Intercloud, its approach to the ‘world-of-many-clouds’ strategy it is backing.
Cisco’s SDN announcements featured:
-a new major version of software for ACI deployments including additional cloud management integration, enhanced multi-site support and improved operations including: Microsoft Azure and System Center virtual network automation and transit fabric interconnect support; expanded ACI stretched fabric support for multi-site data center deployment and disaster recovery use cases for up to 150 kilometers over DWDM, Pseudo wire and 40G dark fiber; CliQr, a new ACI ecosystem member, provides application dependency mapping and application deployment automation on ACI networks; and, improved operational simplicity with heat maps, capacity planning and new simplified troubleshooting tools;
-Nexus portfolio enhancements, including a common programmatic approach, standards-based automation, and new Nexus 3000 switches: Cisco NX-OS operating system extensibility support on Nexus 9000 switches with object store and model-driven NX-API enhancements, built in third party DevOps automation tools, secure SDK enabling third party and custom application development running natively on NX-OS, and a common programmatic approach using NX-API across the entire Nexus switch portfolio (Nexus 2000 through Nexus 9000 switches); new Nexus 3200 Top of Rack switches for next generation 10G/25G/40G/50G/100G cloud data centers are available Q3CY15; Nexus 3232C delivers 128 ports of 25Gb or 32 ports of 100Gb; Nexus 3264Q delivers 64 ports of 40Gb; sStandards-based fabric support on Cisco Nexus 5600 and Nexus 7000 switches with VXLAN BGP EVPN in addition to the current support available on Nexus 9000; now shipping: extension of standards-based fabric support with VXLAN BGP EVPN to the modular Cisco Nexus 9500 series switches; and, Cisco Virtual Topology System (VTS), a data center overlay provisioning and management system for stand-alone Nexus fabric, supports overlays across the entire Cisco Nexus switch portfolio (Nexus 2000 through Nexus 9000 switches). VTS supports the BGP EVPN control plane for managing VXLAN overlays in the programmable fabric. It also integrates with cloud management systems such as OpenStack, using plug-ins for seamless integration and overlay automation.
ACI is only part of Cisco’s three-pronged approach to software-defined, programmable, application-centric networks, said Ish Limkakeng, VP Product Management, Insieme business unit, Cisco. While ACI has the most traction, there are also programmable fabric and programmable network, so customers can go with Cisco-based hardware, or a software overlay on other vendors’ switches, he said.
In a one-on-one briefing, Joe Onisick, Principal Engineer, Cisco, called the announcements exponential, rather than evolutionary: “we’ve just provided all of the tools anybody would want to use”. A Cisco spokesperson added that they may not always be first to market, but when they decide they are going to compete, they “always take the time to move the entire market”.
“Two years ago it was on Powerpoint; now it’s in production,” stated Shashi Kiran, Senior Director, Market Management for Data Center, Cloud and Open Networking, Cisco. “Personally I believe the SDN dust has settled and the clear winner is Cisco.”
He said there is nobody that can touch the depth and breadth that we do, and the company’s leave-no-customer-behind strategy. “Eventually, SDN is merely a means to an end… making the infrastructure more agile.”
SDN and its carrier companion, NFV (network functions virtualization), are still in their early days of adoption, but all the forecasts predict brillian futures for the dynamic duo. A new IHS survey expects just over a third of operators (35%) are planning to deploy NFV in 2015.
“Though we’re still in the early stages of a long-term transition to NFV-SDN architected networks, many carriers will be moving from proof-of-concept tests and lab evaluations to commercial deployments of NFV in 2015,” said Michael Howard, senior research director for carrier networks at IHS. “In fact, all major operators are either now deploying NFV or plan to within the next few years,” he said. “Providers believe that NFV and its SDN (software-defined networking) companion are a fundamental change in telecom network architecture that will deliver benefits in service agility and new revenue, operational efficiencies and capex savings.”
Almost half – 48% – plan to evaluate NFV by the end of 2015. The top NFV use cases include virtual enterprise CPE (vE-CPE), service chaining and virtual network platform as a service (VNPaaS). Barriers becoming more prominent as operators get closer to commercial deployment include products not being carrier grade and finding and training staff.
Another recent study reported that 72% of North American businesses plan to have SDN live in the LAN by 2017. “Expectations for software-defined networking in the campus LAN are clear,” said Cliff Grossner, Ph.D., Infonetics’ research director for data center, cloud and SDN. “Businesses taking part in our study want SDN to provide operational cost savings by integrating with existing networks, delivering better security, simplifying management and improving application performance. And they want all this without network interruptions.”
You don’t have to just take analysts’ claims about how great the SDN (ACI) future will be: Cisco’s customers and a company-sponsored IDC report provide compelling evidence that the benefits are real, and ready for prime time. According to IDC, one of the customers, Symantec, has achieved:
-5-year ROI: 441%;
-5-year total business benefits: $145 million;
-average annual business benefits over 5 years with Cisco ACI: IT infrastructure cost reduction – $10.08M; risk mitigation and business productivity – $25.27M; IT staff productivity – $8.50M;
-payback period: 11 months;
-reduction in time of application development life cycle: 87%; and,
-improved network operation staff efficiency: 79%.
Other benefits included: 87% faster application development life cycle; zero unplanned Cisco ACI–related downtime; 40 times more network backbone bandwidth; and 79% more efficient network operations and engineering once fully deployed . “We don’t look at deploying Cisco ACI as a network refresh but as a way of changing how our datacenters operate,” said Vince Spina, VP of IT, Global Network Infrastructure and Data Center Services , Symantec, in a prepared statement.
ACI started shipping midway through 2014, but only to Cisco customers with or prepared to buy its Nexus 9000 switch. There are 2,650 such customers, and almost 600 of them have bought into ACI, with that number almost doubling in the last quarter. The company acknowledged that it is still early days, but last year’s ‘interest’ has progressed to ‘proof of concept and trials’ and now it’s moving into production.
In a panel session at Cisco Live, Spina – along with Thomas Raabo, Network Operations Manager, Zitcom (a Danish ISP,) and Aftab Rasool, Senior Manager Data Centre Infrastructure, EITC (the second largest Telecom service provider in the UAE) – extolled the virtues of ACI. He joined Symantec just over a year ago, along with several other ex-Cisco executives, with the objective of moving IT back in-house from a service provider. “If we were going to take back IT… software-defined was the technology we knew we wanted to use”.
The software vendor looked at a number of alternatives, but ultimately chose Cisco because it was a brand they trusted, and knew it would be with them for the future, something which was critical given the early stages of SDN. Spina said they really liked the 9000 platform, and ACI, but they could always move elsewhere if things didn’t work out. Some 14 months later they’ve never looked back, and have started migrating applications from the legacy part of the datacenter. “We’re smarter today as a company on ACI than we were a year ago.”
For Zipcom, it’s all automation and the ability to create bigger networks, faster, said Raabo. “We wanted to buy into a product we didn’t know where we would be in 2 years… wanted to be sure that the foundation would encompass all of the applications we would want to run in the future… that was the risk; going with Cisco reduced that risk.”
Rasool talked about the flexibility of ACI, and its multitenant capabilities, always a key concern for service providers. The SP was in the process of consolidating datacenters, and ACI – their’s is the largest provides them with flexibility. “Today we’re meeting that objective”. Other benefits include higher productivity, less cabling, and major CapEx and OpEx savings, he added.
Cisco announced a number of additions to its SDN ISV partners, but they need to do more, said Spina. “What has to catch up is the ecosystem… there are not enough of them out there with the skills needed”.
If Spina is looking for more partners and skills, Raabo and Rasool both noted the growing importance of software – and services – over Cisco’s traditional hardware-centric focus. “Cisco’s game is not selling hardware in the old way. They want to add services”, said Raabo.
“We’re looking for Cisco to become more of a software company,” added Rasool.