When Cisco acquired Swedish software startup Tail-f Systems last June, it raised a few questions, namely: How committed would Cisco be to Tail-f's open, standards-based architecture?
On Wednesday, the networking giant rolled out a free new tool that company executives say answers that question. Basic ConfD is a free version of Tail-f's ConfD software library used by Cisco and competing network equipment providers for building on-device management features. ConfD implements the Network Configuration (NETCONF) protocol and YANG modeling language to enable network programmability and SDN.
Many service providers are now demanding their vendors provide a NETCONF interface, said Fredrik Lundberg, Tail-f's former CEO, who is the director of strategy and planning for Cisco’s cloud and virtualization group. "Now that Cisco is offering it for free, it will be a big thing for the industry to get access to a standardized protocol that is actually designed for programmability," he said in an interview.
Basic ConfD shows that Cisco is serious about maintaining Tail-f's open, multi-vendor strategy, he said: "This clears those question marks and changes them into exclamation points."
The free version of ConfD is the same as the premium version, except that it only supports the NETCONF northbound interface, Lundberg said. The supported, premium version includes other interfaces, including CLI, REST and SNMP.
More than 75 network equipment providers use ConfD, including seven of the top 10 providers, according to Cisco.
After Cisco acquired Tail-F for $175 million last year, it continued to sell ConfD to competitor customers and held internal discussions about what to do with the product, Lundberg said. The free version is designed to accelerate adoption of NETCONF and YANG among service providers.
Tail-f's other product -- its NCS multi-vendor network orchestration software that got most of the attention at the time of the acquisition -- will be renamed Cisco Network Service Orchestrator enabled by Tail-f. The NCS platform is based on NETCONF.
Natalie Timms, an independent networking consultant, former CCIE program manager at Cisco, and Network Computing contributor, provided an introduction to NETCONF in a blog post last year. Basic ConfD appears to be a useful tool for those wishing to become more knowledgeable about NETCONF and YANG, she said in an email interview.
"You could do some basic deployment, as the basic version name suggests, but for anything more in-depth and also requiring monitoring capabilities -- think production environment -- you would definitely need to pay for the real tool," Timms said.
However, the tool is a positive step for Cisco and shows that it's willing to "share" the Tail-f technology, she said.
"I think Cisco realizes that there is a transition occurring from closed hardware systems with proprietary OS that provided network services to this idea of software-led solutions," Timms added. "A common way to represent data is not a new concept; MIBs have been around forever. What we are seeing here is a way to leverage a tool that allows vendors to still innovate and offer their own value-add; and if they choose, this can be more easily customized by YANG and deployed via NETCONF."
Basic ConfD is available with an unlimited license for download from the Tail-f website.