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Greg Ferro
Greg Ferro
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Cisco's ONE Controller Debuts; Targets SDN

Cisco's SDN architecture gets its keystone with the launch of the Cisco ONE Controller, a software package that supports OpenFlow and its own onePK APIs. Cisco also announced support for hybrid clouds with its Nexus 1000V product and the Nexus 6000, a new data center switch.

Cisco today announced details about its Open Network Environment (ONE) Controller, a keystone in Cisco's software-defined networking (SDN) architecture. The ONE Controller is a software platform that serves as an interface between network hardware in one direction (southbound) and third-party applications (northbound).

Cisco says its controller will support both the OpenFlow protocol and a set of proprietary APIs, a package it calls the One Platform Kit (onePK), which contains hundreds of APIs to expose existing features and capabilities within Cisco's switches and routers. Cisco says the new controller will ship in the first half of 2013.

Cisco has been slower to market with an SDN controller than traditional competitors such as IBM and NEC, both of which have released controller products. HP and Juniper have also announced, but not shipped, their own controllers.

There are several reasons for Cisco's slow pace. The simple fact is that while the SDN movement has generated a significant amount of discussion, it has yet to generate any significant customer demand. For another, Cisco has dominated the market for decade with autonomous networking, so it's easy to assume the company is assuring current profits by resisting change.

Cisco also announced three applications for the controller. If you have been following the OpenFlow/SDN discussion, you won't be surprised by the applications that Cisco offers, which are similar to those offered or announced by other vendors such as HP and Big Switch Networks.

1. Network Slicing: This application uses dynamic network provisioning to "carve" new pathways out of existing networks; it's most commonly associated with multitenant networks.

2. Network Tapping: This application uses flow-based network matching to duplicate traffic for external monitoring, and is similar to Big Switch's Big Tap product.

3. Custom Forwarding: As with Network Slicing, Custom Forwarding applies specific modifications to selected traffic, such as setting dynamic QoS policies or manual path selections.

Cisco says these applications are in use today by customers building proof-of-concept networks, suggesting that Cisco wants us to know these are real applications, not just announcements.

Controller support within the Cisco hardware product range is very limited. Only the ASR 1000 and ISR G2 routers and the Nexus 3000 will get onePK support in the first half of this year. OpenFlow support will be limited to the Catalyst 3000 (that is, not Cisco silicon). However, software devices such as the CSR1000V and Nexus 1000V get early support.

Northbound APIs

Much of the value in a centralized controller-based SDN architecture comes from a controller's northbound APIs, which allow applications to communicate with the controller and request network services. Cisco has announced REST and Java-based northbound APIs for its controller.

Previously, Cisco stated its intention to "meet developers wherever they are" and offer APIs once standards and market consensus had been reached. However, developers are also looking to Cisco to commit to a platform before the developers put resources to development projects. The announcement of northbound APIs from Cisco may be the commitment developers need. Cisco claims that its ONE Controller is the "industry's most extensible controller architecture," indicating APIs will certainly change and Cisco plans to be ready for those changes.

Today there are no standards for northbound APIs, though there has been talk of efforts. Recently, I received a tip that HP, IBM and Cisco may be setting up a consortium to build consensus and direction for northbound APIs. That the Open Networking Foundation, which oversees OpenFlow standards, hasn't been able to get organized is disappointing. That said, standards can be built in many ways, and a joint effort among vendors with transparent and open processes could work equally well for customers.

Next Page: Controller Commitment Issues

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/14/2013 | 9:43:57 AM
re: Cisco's ONE Controller Debuts; Targets SDN
You failed to address "licensing insults".

Notwithstanding, it's becoming increasingly difficult to do business with Cisco. Products are overlapping, with confusing feature sets, inconsistent lines.

I understand quite well how Cisco thinks and believe in the short term it might make sense, but large conglomerates like Ford & General Motors failed, in large part, to having too many product lines. Cisco's hubris in believing they can be everything to everybody is a major problem.

I'm turning away from Cisco because of product complexity - licensing, features, SKU plethora are costing me enormous sums in research and lost productivity.

On automation/orchestration, I perceive (rightly or wrongly) that Cisco has about six separate product lines in production today. This has led to a lack of focus and lack of quality in ALL of these platforms.

I could go on & on but I weary.
David Klebanov
David Klebanov,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2013 | 1:39:40 AM
re: Cisco's ONE Controller Debuts; Targets SDN
Hi Greg,

I am still not quite sure why your original comment about undermined confidence came in the context of Insieme discussion...

#You said: "Cisco products don't arrive on time or as planned"

I would love to hear more details and maybe specific cases where Cisco failed to deliver on time or as planned. I will be transparent with you, since you asked for it :-), when developing new products and offerings, slippages are possible and Cisco is no exception. It takes time until internal initiatives are communicated publicly and there are slippages internally, BUT once public announcements come, Cisco stands firm behind the committed timeline. This is contrary to some other vendors who over promise and underdeliver (or never deliver). Sorry to have used this somewhat controversial slogan...

#You said: "Building an automation suite from Cisco products is a complex undertaking..."

Automation, in my experience, is many times a factor of APIs available on the equipment. I agree that originally, it probably wasn't Cisco's stronghold (not counting good old SNMP or Perl/Shell/TCL scripting), but we definitely see a change with support for XML/REST and most importantly Openflow and onePK, which gives you the ultimate toolkit.

#You said: "...confusing plethora of products (FOUR chassis switches)..."

You can't blame Cisco for listening to its customers. We indeed have several families of modular switches, but they exist for a reason. Some people say "why don't you kill Cat6500"? There has never been a switch in a history of data switching that have had more success and deployment than this platform, although Cat4500 is creeping up on it ;-) Both platforms have great value, will continue their evolution and keep servicing Cisco's customers. If you consider Nexus 7K and Nexus 6K as the other two modular platforms, I think we had mouthful about those in other discussions. As Omar had rightfully mentioned, eventually we are going to have three types of operating systems. IOS-XE for the borderless products portfolio (containerized IOS), NX-OS for Data Center products and IOS-XR for high end routing platforms.

#You said: "...stupid product videos on website..."

Some videos on are marketing videos and should be treated as such. If you want more technical in-depth ones, you are probably better off searching on Youtube. I know, I at times do :-) BTW, have you ever seen any other vendor ever release so much technical information on their website? I know it's not videos, but it should still count for something...

Thanks for reading.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2013 | 8:48:41 PM
re: Cisco's ONE Controller Debuts; Targets SDN

Just to clarify on the point of BU support, when we made the initial announcement for Cisco ONE, we talked about support for three OSes: NX-OS, IOS, and IOS-XR, which addresses the question of BU support--in fact, the way development is structured, BU buy-in is a non-issue. The question of specific platform support is not "if" but "when". The "when" is being driven by what customers are asking for and right now, they are primarily looking for entry-level platforms that they can get in their labs and play with, which is why we have prioritized platforms like the N3K, the ASR 1K and the ISR G2. At the same time, we announced PoC support for the N7K and forthcoming support for the N6K. We also added the PoC support for the Cat6500 and the new Cat3850 to join the existing Cat3K model. Finally, we added PoC support for the ASR9K. While we are not done yet, I think we have done a good job of laying out an approach and they delivering on it.


Omar (@omarsultan)

User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2013 | 7:22:29 PM
re: Cisco's ONE Controller Debuts; Targets SDN
I'm tired of strategies that lack openness & transparency. I can only discuss & plan what I seen & have heard.

Permit me to be cynical about Cisco futures since they history shows that they simply don't arrive on time or as planned....

I figure that Cisco has most of the automation pieces although there is a lot of moving pieces. Building an automation suite from Cisco products is a complex undertaking and the licensing is so complex that I quail in the face the challenge.

So between the product quality issues I'm experiencing, the licensing insults I get every day, and confusing plethora of products (FOUR chassis switches) and those stupid product videos on website, I'm expected to believe that Uncle John can always come up with yet another strategy that will solve my problems ?

Colour me cynical. :)

David Klebanov
David Klebanov,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2013 | 6:55:00 AM
re: Cisco's ONE Controller Debuts; Targets SDN
Hi Greg,

Disclaimer: I work for Cisco.

Thank you for a good and informative article. I wanted to comment on:
"Rumors continue to swirl about its purpose, but the strongest rumors suggest Insieme is building a controller. This further confounds Cisco's long term strategy and undermines confidence."

Do you assume that if Insieme was building another form of SDN controller, it would obsolete or collide with Cisco ONE controller that was just publicly lunched and thus your comment about undermined confidence?

As you can imagine, there is no way I can directly comment on what Insieme is doing. Cisco ONE controller is one of the three pillars of Cisco's SDN strategy, along with Overlays and onePK. It is a *huge* and *very* comprehensive initiative across all of our products. There is no reason for you or anyone else to have their confidence undermined by the flying rumors of what Insieme is or is not doing. Sorry, I cannot provide more details.

Thank you,
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