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Cisco enters enemy camp with software-defined networking

Forced into a corner by the rise of open-source technologies, Cisco has introduced its Open Network Environment package that brings software-defined networking across its stack
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Cisco has adopted software-defined networking, aiming to get a foothold in an emerging technology that threatens the heart of the networking giant's business.

The ambitious Cisco Open Network Environment package, introduced at Cisco Live in San Diego, aims to give cloud providers, service providers and academics comprehensive support for software-based and software-defined networking based on Cisco products.

"With this announcement, we intend to put to rest all speculations and rumours on Cisco's strategy for network programmability (including SDN) and put the focus back where it belongs — on our customers," Shashi Kiran, a director of market management at the company, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. "It will be interesting to see this transition play itself out."

The Open Network Environment includes the One Platform software development kit (OnePK), which provides API access to Cisco's operating systems and hardware platforms. It also has proof-of-concept (POC) controller software for software-defined networking, as well as POC agents for the popular software-defined networking (SDN) specification OpenFlow on Cisco Catalyst 3750-X and 3560-X switches. Alongside are expanded support for OpenStack, multiple hypervisors and virtual LAN across its products.

The move marks a broad adoption by Cisco of open-source technologies that are disrupting the networking industry. These technologies allow companies to depend less on the types of proprietary network equipment made by Cisco, Huawei and their kin, and move more of their networks over to cheap, commodity hardware.

Google, for instance, has moved all of its internal network over to OpenFlow SDN technology and runs this network on top of low-cost Google-designed hardware. The search giant's strategy represents just the type of shift that Cisco is afraid of, as Google's OpenFlow adoption means it has no need of traditional networking hardware or software.

Cisco is aware of the threat software-defined networking poses and, with the Open Network Environment move, has responded to it.

"The Cisco Open Network Environment is key to our vision of an intelligent network that is more open, programmable, and application-aware — a vision in which the network is transformed into a more-effective business enabler," Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's chief technical officer, said in a statement.

"Customers get a comprehensive and robust set of capabilities to address emerging enterprise and service provider requirements, to harness network intelligence and provide value for new business platforms in an evolutionary manner," she added.

Cisco is not the first major IT company to throw its hat into the software-defined networking ring — HP has already started adopting the technology, though for now its moves are mostly symbolic.

Beta trials and phased general availability for Open Network Environment components is set to begin in the last quarter of 2012.


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