Cisco Evolves IOS XR Network Operating System with Linux

Working together with hyperscale web companies, Cisco has enhanced its networking operating system to be more open.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Nov 25, 2015
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At the core of Cisco's big routers has long been the IOS-XR network operating system. IOS-XR is now evolving, thanks to a rebasing on Linux and the inputs of Cisco's hyperscale web partners.

Kevin Wollenweber, director of product management for Cisco’s service provider segment, explained that the new IOS-XR 6.0 release provides improved visibility into a network using a feature called telemetry. Wollenweber explained that in the past, many network devices used old approaches, such as SNMP traps, that probe a network in order to get information.

"What we've done with telemetry is we have built a publisher/subscriber model where devices push out information at regular intervals," Wollenweber said.

Additionally, IOS-XR provides more programmability to enable a higher degree of network automation. Technologies such as Puppet and Chef for orchestration are now also enabled for automation.

"We built an infrastructure that allows people to run their own applications in Linux containers on the router itself," Wollenweber said.

Cisco is using Linux Containers (LXC) as the container technology. Wollenweber explained that IOS-XR is now based on a Linux infrastructure, which enables more toolchains and standard interfaces.

Wollenweber explained that the move to Linux for IOS-XR has been ongoing. He noted that when IOS-XR first shipped in 2004, it was based on the QNX micro-kernel. Cisco has now taken all the benefits it built into the QNX based IOS-XR and moved it into a 64-bit Linux infrastructure.

"The 64-bit Linux infrastructure is the de facto standard that is being used across the industry today," Wollenweber said. "So it gives us more development tools, more tool chains and also more access into the third party development ecosystem."

Cisco first began using a Linux-based IOS-XR version in early 2014 on one of its routers and is now expanding to a new portfolio of NCS routers, including the NCS 1000, 5000 and 5,500.

Multiple large-scale web vendors like Facebook have recently started to try and build their own networking infrastructure by way of the Open Compute Project's whitebox networking efforts. Wollenweber said that the OCP efforts are largely about enabling agility and improved automation as well as integration with common tooling.

"A lot of the problems that we're trying to solve through the IOS-XR are the same," Wollenweber said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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