Cisco Reveals Software Defined Networking Strategy

Over the course of the last several years, the concept of software defined networking (SDN) has become increasingly popular. With SDN, networks become programmable and are not permanently shackled to their underlying hardware components.

Cisco slow to embrace SDN in the beginning

While many in the industry have been quick to embrace SDN, Cisco wasn’t among them. Today, that changed as Cisco formally announced a strategy that spans the range of Cisco’s vast switching and routing portfolio and is underpinned by the new Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) platform kit.

Sashi Kiran senior director, Data Center/Virtualization and Switching at Cisco explained to Enterprise Networking Planet.comthat ONE is a new development environment that straddles all of Cisco’s network operating systems from the smallest branch router to the biggest CRS core routing platform.

“It’s one homogenous development environment that exposes and enables customers to harness the intelligence of the network,” Kiran said.

Kiran noted that the Cisco ONE approach is an effort to provide multi-layered programmability throughout the network. Typically, SDN implementations are about the separation of the control and forwarding planes, while the Cisco approach also looks at transport, network services, and management.

A key part of the SDN story is the OpenFlow protocol, which helps to enable the control and forwarding plane separation. OpenFlow has been broadly supported by other industry vendors including HP, Brocade and Juniper. Cisco is now rolling out its own OpenFlow agent for Catalyst switches and a proof of concept OpenFlow controller.

The Cisco OpenFlow controller is intended to give administrators the ability to slice up campus networks for data management. While other vendors have OpenFlow enabled switches, at this point, it’s not entirely clear if the Cisco controller will be able to work with them. Kiran said that while OpenFlow is an open standard, different vendors implement it differently making interoperability challenging.


In addition to abstracting Cisco’s own hardware, the new SDN strategy includes a VXLAN gateway approach, as well. VXLAN is an overlay technology proposed by Cisco, VMware, Red Hat and other industry leaders to enable Layer 2 connectivity over a Layer 2 domain. VXLAN is also at the core of VMware’s Software Defined Data Center strategy. The new gateway will extend Cisco Nexus 1000v virtual switch enabling virtual networks to bridge physical ones.

David Ward, CTO and chief architect of the Service Provider division at Cisco, is no stranger to SDN and OpenFlow. In an interview with Enterprise Networking Planet.comearlier this year, Ward stressed that Cisco was working on a plan for SDN. During the press conference today, Ward stressed that the Cisco approach is all about simplifying the network.

“I hate to say this, but not everyone finds BGP [border gateway protocol] and OSPF[open shortest path first] as exciting as I do,” Ward said. “What we’re trying to do is allow people to interact with the network, to write features and add functionality without necessarily having to understand everything there is to know.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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