Cisco Blogs

Cisco Blog > Data Center

What is Cisco’s SDN Strategy for the Data Center?

Cisco has a broad spectrum of customers across a wide range of markets and geographies. These customers have a diverse set of requirements, operational models and use cases, meaning that a one size fits all SDN strategy does not fit all our customers. As a result, we made a series of announcements earlier this summer (at Cisco Live San Diego) that continued to showcase how our SDN strategy provides customers with a high degree of choice and flexibility. This blog will review key elements of the strategy, as well as provide a bit of background and context around them.

Cisco SDN in the DC

Cisco’s SDN strategy for the Data Center is built on 3 key pillars:

  • Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)
  • Programmable Fabric
  • Programmable Network

This approach enables our customers to choose the implementation option that best meets their IT and business goals by extending the benefits of programmability and automation across the entire Nexus switching portfolio. Let’s consider each of these pillars.


A lot has been said and written about ACI already, so I’ll keep this section on ACI brief. ACI is Cisco’s flagship SDN offering. It offers the most comprehensive SDN solution in the industry. Based on an application centric policy model, ACI provides automated, integrated provisioning of both underlay and overlay networks, L4-7 services provisioning across a broad set of ecosystem partners, and extensive telemetry for application level health monitoring. These comprehensive capabilities deliver a solution that is agile, open, and secure, offering customers benefits no other SDN solution can.

I know the paragraph above was a bit of a mouthful. For a quick snapshot of what that all translates to in terms of actually helping a customer, check out this report from IDC.   If you want to learn more about ACI, go here.

Programmable Fabric

This pillar is all about providing scale and simplicity to VXLAN Overlays. Beyond that, it provides a clear path forward for the overall Nexus portfolio to participate in and derive the benefits of SDN.

VXLAN has gained huge momentum across the industry for a wide variety of reasons that, in many cases, involve improvements over traditional technologies such as VLANs and Spanning Tree. These involve attributes such as more efficient bandwidth use via Equal Cost Multi Pathing (ECMP), higher theoretical scalability with 16 million segments, and more flexibility through use of an overlay model upon which multi tenant cloud networks can be built. As momentum for VXLAN networks grows, so does the demand for 2 key things:

  • A standards based approach to scale out VXLANs, and
  • Simplified provisioning and management of them.

Regarding a standards based approach to scale out VXLANs, Cisco is now supporting “Multipoint BGP EVPN Control Plane” on Nexus switches. Why does this matter? Well, the original VXLAN spec (RFC 7348) relied on a multicast based flood-and-learn mechanism without a control plane for certain key functions (e.g. VTEP peer discovery and remote end host reachability). This is a suboptimal approach. To overcome the limitations inherent with this approach, the IETF developed MP BGP EVPN Control Plane as a standards-based control plane for VXLAN overlays. This reduces traffic flooding on the overlay network, yielding a more efficient and more scalable approach.

As far as the second item, simplified provisioning and management, Cisco announced an overlay management and provisioning system. This new solution, called Virtual Topology System (VTS), automates provisioning of the overlay network, so as to enhance the deployment of cloud based services. Through an automated overlay provisioning model and tight integration with 3rd party orchestration tools such as OpenStack and VMWare VCenter, VTS simplifies overlay provisioning and management for both physical and virtual workloads by eliminating manually intensive network configuration tasks. These whiteboard sessions provide an overview and also a bit more technical detail, if you’re interested.

Programmable Network

Infrastructure programmability is a big deal because it drives automation, which drives speed, which is an obvious prerequisite for the success of just about any business dealing with digital disruption. As programmability evolves, Cisco continues to roll out more and more capabilities across the Nexus portfolio. We have a broad range of features in this space including things such as Programmable Open APIs, integration with 3rd party DevOps and Automation tools, Custom App Development, and Bash shell commands. This set of capabilities within NX-OS facilitates the concept of the Programmable Network pillar.   Let’s consider how this may be useful for you.

A while ago, a small number of customers with very large networks started shifting the way they operated. Their networks were growing very large because (not too surprisingly) the number of users, thus servers, was growing very large. As the number of servers grew larger and faster, they realized they had a choice:

  • Hire a zillion new sys admins, or
  • Brutally overwork their existing sys admins, or
  • Deploy and manage servers in new and different ways.

The last option won out (in many cases, anyhow), and the revelation was automation. That is, tools that automated server deployment and management helped these sys admins and their employer’s scale the business. In the process, they paid close attention to metrics like the number of servers a given admin was managing. These “device to admin” ratios went up a lot…like in some cases orders of magnitude. With automation tools and other changes (to culture, process, etc.), some companies saw admins managing not 10’s or 100’s of servers, but 1000’s of servers. They also started experimenting with and employing DevOps – a term that at this point has a multitude of meanings, but is defined here in simple English.

As these elements have converged, people across different silos have started to collaborate a bit more, and as a result, tips, tricks and tools have started to spill across the silos. So, for example, as sys admins saw efficiency gains from using tools like Puppet and Chef to automate tasks on their servers, there was a desire to use the same tools on networks. In other cases, someone who was comfortable with Linux and wanted to work from a Bash shell wanted to use those commands for configuration and troubleshooting on the network as well as servers. Others wanted APIs that would allow extraction of all sorts of arcane box info to be massaged and acted upon by scripts and other tools.

Essentially, there was a need for more elements of the box to be more accessible and programmable in a wide variety of ways. It’s worth noting that although these trends started with a small subset of customers, many of the elements are working their way out to a much broader, more diverse cross section of customers. As this evolution has occurred, Cisco has been adding more programmability to the Nexus switches. This paper provides a more detailed view of various use cases and the functionality Nexus provides.

In summary, these 3 pillars of ACI, Programmable Fabric and Programmable Network provide a wide range of capabilities to help our customers across the broad spectrum of challenges they have. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll provide more information – here, as well as other venues – to help you better understand the strategy and its components. If this blog was too geeky and you’re looking for upleveled info, we’ll have that.  If this was too fluffy, and you want more technical depth, we’ll have that as well.  To punctuate this point, I’ll be hosting a webinar on September 15 that will cover the above in more detail. You can register here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Next-Gen ACI ready VCE Vblock Systems Accelerate Journey to SDN and Cloud


VCE2VCEIt is nearly five years since Cisco, EMC and VMware came together to set up VCE and introduce one of the world’s best integrated infrastructure solutions with the Vblocks. The promise was to deliver “dramatic efficiencies” to customers promising significant reduction in capital and operating expenses giving customers flexibility and choice. Customers appreciated the operational simplicity of the model and Vblock sales took off with multi-billion dollar annual run rates.

Much has changed in the industry since then. The social-mobile-cloud-big data revolution has accelerated posing new requirements for IT and increasing the relevance of data centers and private cloud deployments. SDN has moved from being just a buzzword with several use-cases. Server virtualization has continued to drive efficiencies and hybrid clouds have become the new norm. Amidst all this, customers continue to crave operational simplicity and consumable infrastructure for their data center and private cloud deployments making the VCE approach as relevant as ever.

So, today, we’re very happy to share the success and celebrate the joint innovations as VCE rolls out its next generation Vblock systems that drive new levels of convergence. With Cisco continuing to refresh its portfolio with new Nexus products and industry leading SDN with the Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) approach, and with Cisco UCS introducing next-generation products, it is natural that these innovations be reflected in the VCE Vblock integrated solutions.

Cisco is helping bring in new innovations to the party. The Nexus 9000 forms a key element with a very compelling form factor and industry leading price-performance. For customers interested in venturing into Software Defined Networking (SDN) and making their infrastructure application centric, the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) provides a central point of management and policy application. The result is a simplified operational model and lower TCO across a variety of deployment scenarios.

As VCE introduces Vblock Systems 240, 540 and 740 today, they provide the flexibility of consuming the network elements as standalone switches or SDN deployments in an ACI mode.  Vblocks can therefore operate in a standalone mode with current automation mechanisms or in an ACI ready mode subscribing to the APIC policy-driven model. Customers adopting the new Vblock systems get the operational flexibility to choose.

Read More »

Tags: , , , , , ,

Cisco’s Data Center Fabric Continues to Innovate

As my niece was snapping away pictures on her digital camera, I told her about the ” back when I was a kid stories”; when you would have to be careful about the sun over exposing your film and having to anxiously wait days to see them.   I then rampaged on about how you would HAVE to go to the library to look up information for book reports, how my tape player always jammed on my favorite part of the song, and the video recorder my dad had was so heavy he’d use his shoulder to leverage the weight.  Amazing how dramatically technology is changing, information being only a click click away.

People are now living in the time of “faster” – data, video, photos, social media, the demand is growing exponentially higher by the day.  How are networks keeping up with these demands? I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not sitting on the same data center configurations from 5 years ago, heck not even a year ago.   Listening to the requirements of customer’s needs,  data centers need to have scalability, flexibility, and speed to rapidly move across networks.

Today, Cisco has announced several industry leading innovations in the Nexus switching portfolio that spans across the Unified Fabric portfolio.  Please join us on October 25th at 9:00 a.m., PT to hear from industry analysts, customers and Cisco executives speaking in more detail about our product portfolio enhancements: “Evolutionary Fabric, Revolutionary Scale”.

Please also check out a great blog by Shashi Kiran, Director of DC/V on this topic:

To learn more:

Tags: , , ,

Re-defining Fabric Scale: Thinking Beyond the “Box”

Today we are making a significant announcement with several new innovations across our data center and switching portfolio that showcase how our customers can build large scale-up and scale-out data center networks.  While the press release does a great job (thanks Lee!) of highlighting all the innovations across the Nexus Unified Fabric portfolio and the new ASA 1000v, two aspects of the announcement stand out quite prominently:

  1. Cisco is delivering the highest density 10GbE modular switching platform in the industry
  2. Cisco is delivering the most scalable fabric in the industry and, by extension – on the planet! (we’re told planet sounds much cooler)

No. 1 above is fairly straightforward. With our new 2nd-generation F2 line card and Fabric 2 module, at 768 ports of 10GbE line-rate switching ports running NX-OS, the flagship Nexus 7018 in a fully-loaded configuration is simply the epitome of switch scale.

No.2 is where things get interesting, because we’re no longer thinking about just the “box” but rather, how we can weave different elements across the data center into a holistic “fabric”.  This systems-based approach focuses on multi-dimensional scale transcending the box and even the data center LAN, to span between data centers, while providing feature-rich fabric capabilities.  At 12,000+ 10GbE nodes supported as part of one Fabricpath-enabled system, and with the ability to support Fabric Extender (FEX) technology (plus L2 and L3 capabilities), this approach re-defines fabric scalability at 2X the scale and half the cost point of the next best claim in the industry. More important, it achieves this in an evolutionary manner for our 19,000+ NX-OS customers, offering investment protection for brownfield deployments while raising the bar for greenfield environments!

The Nexus platforms have been around for 3+ years, and over 500 customers have deployed FabricPath on the Nexus 7000 alone since its introduction about an year ago. It is a proven technology. With Fabricpath now coming onto the Nexus 5500 platforms, the momentum is likely to spike up with a mix of both size and scale. Like I said, things get interesting.

To make it more fun, our technical experts from the product teams have taken a data-driven approach and compared Cisco’s new innovations and our box and system-scale with others in the industry.

They looked at a couple of representative examples – the first being, what it would take any other vendor to build a non-blocking 768-port 10GbE “switch”, with capabilities similar to what the Nexus 7000 could provide in a single chassis. The second example takes a look at what it takes to build a “fabric” with Cisco leveraging its Nexus portfolio and NX-OS to build that.

Take a look and let us know what you think. It is useful to note that most vendors in the industry today have no fabric capabilities to speak of, and the few that are attempting a systems approach, have really limited to no customer traction thus far. Our customers and key analysts tell us that Cisco has a multi-year innovation lead in this space, even as Cisco continues to focus on bringing the network, compute, storage and application services together with integrated management to drive productivity and efficiency across traditional IT and organizational silos.

Read More »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Others make promises. We deliver.

It is great when the chief sales guy feels pretty good about the innovation a company delivers enough to blog about it. It gets even better when customers feel good about the innovation and value that a company like Cisco brings, to get up in front of the camera and share the benefits they are deriving.

Such customer confidence comes from trust. In the case of Cisco, we have earned this trust over decades, providing our customers not just with the best networking technology but by providing the right support model, the lowest TCO  and simply the best investment protection in the industry.

This has been borne out many times even as we’ve led numerous industry transitions – from enabling the ubiquity of Ethernet and IP; driving the voice, video and data inflection points, and the more recent trends around data center, virtualization and cloud.

Speaking of inflection points – over the past three years – we are leading perhaps the biggest networking transition in history, as we introduce the Nexus switching and NX-OS platforms into the data center and make it a foundational element for fabric-based infrastructure. In just over three years, we have over 19,000 NX-OS based customers with a sustained #1 market leadership across a variety of categories including revenue and port share. As the chart below depicts, we’re nearly 3X the 10GbE revenue of all our competitors combined! The 10GbE port shipments are equally strong compared to the rest of the industry.

Needless to say, all this has made the job for our competition much harder; to keep up with Cisco’s pace of innovation  has not been an easy task.

Read More »

Tags: , , ,