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Cisco Offers More SDN Hints, Confirms Insieme

Despite months of rumors and speculation, the networking industry's most powerful and influential vendor, Cisco Systems, is continuing to keep its plans for software-defined networking (SDN) largely to itself. In an exclusive interview during this week’s Open Networking Summit (ONS), Shashi Kiran, senior director of market management at Cisco, also an ONS member, says that OpenFlow and SDN are both so new that companies should not be deciding whether to use OpenFlow but rather how they can

Despite months of rumors and speculation, the networking industry's most powerful and influential vendor, Cisco Systems, is continuing to keep its plans for software-defined networking (SDN) largely to itself. In an exclusive interview with Network Computing during this week’s Open Networking Summit (ONS), Shashi Kiran, senior director of market management at Cisco, also an ONS member, says that OpenFlow and SDN are both so new that companies should not be deciding whether to use OpenFlow but rather how they can use OpenFlow along with other approaches. "We will pursue the strategy of the power of the and, instead of the power of the either/or,” says Kiran.

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which hosted the summit, strongly backs the OpenFlow protocol for delivering SDN. To that extent, Cisco plans to enable the OpenFlow protocol on some of its existing switches and routers. Company spokesman Neil Becker could not be specific on when that might happen, on what products OpenFlow would be enabled or how Openflow would be made available.

Cisco CEO John Chambers did confirm that Cisco has created a "spin-in" company called Insieme, an internal startup that would develop SDN technology. At this week's Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego, Chambers said Insieme received $100 million in funding and could receive up to $750 million. Its nucleus is a trio of Cisco engineers who have done spin-in startups in the past: Mario Mazolla, Luca Cafiero and Prem Jain. Other spin-ins have included Andiamo Systems, which developed SAN switches, and Nuova Systems, which developed the Nexus 5000 series data center switches. The concept of the spin-in is that the team develops a new technology; once the technology is brought to market, the spin-in is absorbed back into Cisco.

Rival HP may have only a fraction of Cisco's networking market share, but the IT industry's largest vendor has made a concerted effort to grow its slice of the networking pie. HP has long been a supporter of OpenFlow, providing OpenFlow software on some of its switch equipment to academic researchers. In February, HP offered a free OpenFlow software download that runs on 16 different HP networking product lines. Becker declined to say whether Cisco would use the same approach.

The Cisco-versus-everybody-else approach to SDN has been a constant buzz among those in the research, vendor and user communities since the last ONS event held in October at Stanford University. At this week’s event in nearby Santa Clara, Calif., which had about 900 attendees, up from 400 last fall (plus close to 200 turned away), the where-is-Cisco buzz continued.

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