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Cisco Extends NFV To The Enterprise

Network functions virtualization has been mostly a service provider concept, but Cisco today launched a software package designed to extend NFV to enterprise networks.

NFV has focused on making it easier and cheaper for service providers to launch new services by decoupling network functions from the underlying hardware. Cisco said it aims to provide the same kind of flexibility and ability to enterprises rolling out new branch services. Instead of specialized hardware appliances at the branch, users can run multiple virtualized network functions (VNFs) such as routing, firewall, and WAN optimization on Cisco UCS E- and C-Series or an x86 server.

Cisco Enterprise NFV bundles together virtualization software, VNFs, and orchestration services. It’s part of Cisco’s new Digital Network Architecture, which is designed to extend software-defined networking from the data center to the campus and branch. Along with Enterprise NFV, Cisco announced new services for its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) platform, which provides centralized automation of policy-based application profiles to the WAN and access networks.

“The SDN battle has been waging hot and heavy in the data center. It’s now just starting in the broad enterprise network,” Rob Soderbery, Cisco SVP for enterprise products and solutions, said in an interview.

DNA, he said, aims to make SDN easier to consume for enterprise networking pros. It’s based on five principals: virtualized network services that can run on any platform; network automation; pervasive analytics; cloud service management; and extensibility/programmability.

Andrew Lerner, research director at Gartner, said most networking vendors are working on NFV products for service providers and a small number of very large enterprises. “So Cisco is the first big networking company to come out and say publically, ‘Hey, NFV is for the enterprise too’,” he told me in an email interview.

By extending NFV to the enterprise, Cisco validates a new approach to addressing long-standing WAN challenges, Lerner said. “Apps are no longer just in corporate data centers, and the business doesn’t want to wait weeks for service delivery. So enterprise are building hybrid WANs to provide the optimal mix of performance and cost to connect their locations,” he said.

However, hybrid WANs can be costly and complex with traditional technologies, which has helped spurred the rise of software-defined WAN.

“Now with Cisco embracing NFV, it represents another way to deliver WAN services in a flexible manner to enterprise, and is particularly interesting because it is an alternate approach to just buying the next-generation Cisco ISR,” Lerner added.  “So it is a departure from just incremental innovation in the WAN. What will be most interesting moving forward is to see if Cisco leads with this NFV architecture for mainstream enterprise as their flagship product, versus their more traditional router portfolio.”

Soderbery said Enterprise NFV will enable a company to provision a new service with a single click. It’s in a controlled availability program now and scheduled to be generally available through the Cisco ONE software program later this year as an annual subscription.

The three new services APIC-EM now supports are Cisco Plug-and-Play, IWAN automation, and Easy Quality of Service. Plug-and-Play is designed to streamline the deployment of routers and switches at branch and remote offices; the agent communicates with the Cisco cloud to automate configuration, reducing the cost of having engineers in the field.

The IWAN automation service enables users to set up application policies to allow certain traffic to say, go over MPLS instead of public broadband. Soderbery said in 10 clicks, a company can set up SD-WAN. Easy QoS enables dynamic QoS settings based on application policy to ensure certain applications are prioritized.

Like the APIC-EM platform, Plug-and-Play and Easy QoS are free; the IWAN service is available through Cisco ONE. Cisco said APIC-EM, which runs on existing Cisco hardware, has 117 customers using it in production.

In addition to the APIC-EM services and Enterprise NFV, Cisco announced CMX Cloud, a cloud-based version of its analytics platform using location and presence data from Cisco wireless infrastructure.

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