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SDN – What is it and what does it mean for Your Business?

As the long awaited innovation in the networking space moves out of hype cycle and market interest in software defined networking (SDN) steadily rises, Cisco has been actively involved in these emerging trends, working with standards bodies and listening to the requirements of our global customer base.
As we continue to make our networks more open, programmable, and application aware, we believe we have the industry’s most comprehensive portfolio to help lead this change in an evolutionary manner.

During engagements with our global customer base, we have heard many claims about SDN. I will address these claims from a customer support point of view.
• SDN is about virtualizing the network. It is about migrating from a static, complex physical network platform to a dynamic simplified software enabled virtual platform
• SDN is about commoditizing network hardware because software can provide all functionalities in a centralized, limitless fashion.
• SDN is about reducing TCO and increasing agility. It is about reducing cost (OPEX) through simplification, virtualization, and automation, but also accelerating innovative business services for growth.

Let’s look at the implications of these.

#1: SDN is about virtualizing the network.
This is true and there are benefits. But before you think about virtualizing the network using “Software Defined Network” or “Software Defined Data Center”, let’s recap some core requirements any IT organization needs to take into account:
• Do you have an understanding of your business application environment?
• What are the key interdependencies between your application strategy and your infrastructure strategy?
• What implications would virtualizing the network layer have on your SLA’s? Are there performance penalties associated to your business if you don’t meet them?
If you have not explored these questions in details, then consider developing an “application to infrastructure” blueprint that is aligned to your business strategy. Leverage SDN as a crucial technology building block that can accelerate this process and provide solutions to any gaps identified hence simplifying your path towards network virtualization.

#2: SDN is about commoditizing network hardware because software can now provide all network functionalities.
This is not a reality today. The evolution of PaaS/SaaS and application providers support the fact that software is not “limitless.” The need for network intelligence, scale, performance, and security are still top priorities of most IT infrastructure. SDN does not promise to eliminate the importance hardware has, but simply illustrates the possibility of moving the decision intelligence from the hardware to software. What about speed and performance requirements on a software controller? Can it scale and grow as fast as the business (traffic) needs? How about the hardware that the controller software is running on — can it react fast enough to the ever-growing computing and storage demands? Can your “software only” infrastructure grow dynamically and as fast as your business application needs grow? Each organization needs to consider the implications of transferring the risk and complexity from infrastructure deployment to software (controller and agents) development.

#3: SDN is about reducing TCO and increasing Speed to Market for innovative business services.
Total Cost of Ownership calculations include both CAPEX and OPEX.In an “SDN” world, CAPEX = hardware cost + software cost which includes both development and maintenance, whether you choose to develop in-house (i.e. hiring new skills or transform your existing staff) or through a third-party software developer (i.e. licensing and upgrade costs). Is your operating model changing fast enough to utilize the benefit of SDN’s *simplified* management and operation? Have you broken down IT siloes between Security, Compute, Storage, and Operations? Is your organization ready to shift from managing infrastructure to managing software and changing the IT operation structure? Do you have the necessary tools and process to capture the rich data an “SDN” architecture now provides and turn them into new services for creating new revenue streams? In other words, is everything going to get more complicated before it can be “simplified”? Looking back to the server virtualization transition, very few IT organizations, if any, can claim that they realized the projected operating ROI within the first few years.

Now, let’s take a look at Cisco Open network Environment (ONE).
CiscoONE is more than just SDN. It offers a solution set that provides:
• A softwarecontroller that is centralized and separated from the local data planes
• Network programmability
• Network virtual overlays
We see the move to programmability and network virtualization as an evolution, not a revolution. CiscoONE creates incremental functionality that can be layered on existing infrastructure to deliver new functionality and provide SDN capabilities on top of both traditional technologies and modern business application needs. This enables you to continue leveraging value from the IT investments you’ve already made. We are working to help customers extract more value from the network by offering a broad network API, rich features, and analytics. The core value of the Cisco solution is an “Application Centric Infrastructure”, compare to the generic “Software Defined Network” term. Both software and hardware are a means for providing services business applications. And by making applications the center of everything, we take the broadest view to deliver openness, programmability and abstraction across multiple layers, to the line of business owners.

As my colleague Stephen Speirs pointed out in his blog, Services is the missing S in SDN, I would also say Strategy is the starting point for SDN. Why Strategy?
With the right strategy, you can plan, build and manage an open, programmable, “virtualized” network that reduces your OPEX and delivers the business outcomes you need with the minimum level of risk.
- Customers are at various stages of SDN adoption, as with any new technology or network paradigm. We’ve heard a lot of questions from them: How do I build a business case for SDN? How do I validate the ROI? How do I manage SDN devices? How would SDN change my operations model? What new security vulnerabilities and regulatory issues will I have? How do I build the API applications that are needed for my use case? What do I do when something goes wrong?
- Few customers have a clear understanding of their application profiles. Without a clear view of your application profiles, there are risks to deploying SDN.
- Cisco Services can help you through the SDN journey starting from identify the right strategy to execution so that your organization can transform your business agenda to maximize business value and minimize risks.

Services help you address the areas of What, Why and How

The Cisco Services team is well-positioned to lead this transition for customers. Our work with enterprises, services providers and public sector organizations over past 20+ years has provided us with unique network insights and implementation experience. Cisco Services offer consulting, professional and technical services via strategy, assessment/planning (Why), design and development (What), deployment, validation and operations services (How). We have the experience to help you adopt open, programmable or virtualized networks based on where you are today and where you need to be in order to harness Network Intelligence through deep programmatic access to your networking platforms.

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A Unified L2/L3 IP Based Overlay for Data Centres: another use-case for The Location Identity Separation Protocol

It is amazing how the data centre world has changed in the last few years.  A Data Centre used to be a collection of network elements to interconnect static servers (and their associated storage), with traffic patterns that were highly predictable and mostly north-south.  Cloud and virtualization have changed all of this: a data centre is now a collection of compute and storage resources which can be securely sliced up into virtual networks and placed anywhere according to real time needs, interconnected by a fabric.  The virtualization of servers, network services such as firewalls and load balancers, and even network devices such as switches and routers, has created a very dynamic landscape in terms of how fast you could configure a virtual network, in a way where location shouldn’t really matter, and where compute and storage resources can be added on the fly, based on demand.  Multi-tenant Data Centres, such as the one to deploy Virtual Private Clouds, need to support 10000’s of these virtual networks.  And every one of these virtual networks needs a lot of different service instances to stitch together the virtual network across virtual servers, virtual switches, virtual firewalls, virtual load-balancers, and virtual routers.  Traffic patterns have shifted to East-West, because of the new applications which spread processing across many hosts, and because of the ‘location freedom’ that virtualization allows.  Network infrastructure needs to be cost-effective to handle all this traffic, while the increased lookup-table size caused by the any to any traffic patterns often led to increased cost.  Read More »

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Networking is Cool Again…and that’s good for Cisco

Is networking really cool again?  Obviously, all of us at Cisco think so. Judging by the hype around a few networking start-ups, and moves by major IT vendors to add  networking capabilities, we’re not alone.

The activity and innovation in our category validates something we’ve always believed: the intelligent network is the most strategic asset for our customers,  partners, and even our competitors.

And we expect to see new competitors. As we often say at Cisco,  if you don’t have good competitors, then you’re probably in the wrong markets.

Now the question on many people’s minds is whether the current transition in the market – a transition defined by terms such as Software Defined Networking and network virtualization -- represents a threat or an opportunity for Cisco. As you might expect, Cisco has a strong point of view on this.

First,  SDN, network virtualization and overlay networks (choose your favorite descriptor) are not going to commoditize the underlying networking infrastructure. These architectures actually place more demands on the core infrastructure to enable network virtualization securely, with high performance, at scale.

Why? Because customers expect their core infrastructure to be seamlessly integrated with servers and fabric interconnects. They want a common management framework across all switches (physical and virtual), and they want the ability to support heterogeneous server and hypervisor environments. Our experience is that they expect their networking vendor to fulfill those needs.

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Must See! ACG’s Ray Mota: “Show Me the Money” with Cisco nV Technology

Cisco ASR 9000 system with nV

We’ve talked a bit before about Cisco’s revolutionary network Virtualization technology or “nV.” In case you aren’t familiar with it, nV technology on the ASR product family intelligently blends the network edge, aggregation and access layers into a single system. This can deliver up to 70 percent operational expense savings, increase network capacity and accelerate IPv6 service deployments (very important since we’ve got the World IPv6 Launch next week). nV therefore addresses some of our customer’s most important business concerns by:

  • Lowering  capital costs by simplifying the network
  • Lowering  operational expenses by scaling the network operational efficiencies
  • Increasing revenue by enabling them to better leverage network intelligence

But don’t just take our word for it. ACG Research has developed a Read More »

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Nexus 1000V Updates Bring Scalability and Cloud Readiness to the Network

For anyone who has ventured to a tech conference, flown into an airport or even driven down CA highway 101 this past year, it’s clear that cloud is still top of mind for many technical and business decision makers. We believe this means that enterprises are no longer just talking the talk, but are looking deeper into their networking infrastructure to see if they are ready to meet the challenges of cloud, virtualization and workload mobility. At Cisco, it is our job to help build clouds that can handle elastic demand and efficiently use the  networking infrastructure at both a virtual and physical level. This week, we are announcing several key upgrades to the Nexus 1000V family that bring scalability and cloud readiness to the network.

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