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Navigating Device Management and Control Interfaces in the Age of SDN

The proliferation of different types of device interfaces places a significant burden on application developers and equipment providers alike. One of the reasons for the rise of Software Defined Networking (SDN) is its promise to simplify management by providing a single point through which the entire network can be managed and administered. This raises the question whether this promise extends towards dramatic simplification of the device interface landscape as well, specifically, whether SDN can put an end to device interface proliferation and in the future a single management and control interface may be all that is required. Unfortunately, it turns out that this particular hope is unsubstantiated. Here is why.

The Promised SDN Land of Interface Simplification

Much has been made of the need to align the various interfaces through which networking devices can be managed and controlled. It has been difficult enough to just keep SNMP implementations consistent. Throw CLI, syslog, and Web Services into the mix, and the task becomes daunting indeed. One reason why different interfaces have to be supported has to do with customer preferences, of course. Chef is the new paradigm to support? Sure, we’ll add that. ReST is becoming en-vogue? We’ll support that too.

In the middle of all this, along comes SDN. “Don’t bother with individual devices and their legacy interfaces” is the siren call. “Use a controller to orchestrate the network instead” – a single point of control through which the network can be operated and maintained, an enticing value proposition indeed. Early SDN technology such as OpenFlow made a big splash and gained a lot of mind share this way. Rather than messing with the hodgepodge of existing interfaces, a single interface was introduced to control OpenFlow switches. Just support this one interface, or so the message went, and your equipment can join the New World of Software-Defined Networking, leaving the Old World of fragmented interfaces behind, much like early European settlers coming to America hoped for freedom and a better life, leaving behind constantly quarreling fiefdoms and many centuries of historical baggage. Read More »

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Cisco and the Evolution of the Service Provider Network

On February 18, Cisco announced the evolution of service provider (SP) networks. It is probably a good idea to step back, just a little, and explain how Cisco sees the challenges ahead and how we intend to continue to provide our mobile service provider customers with the strongest portfolio of solutions in the industry. That’s the reason I am writing this blog post. In it, I hope to share with you some of our learnings from the past year and also, explain a little bit about the rationale for our announcement.

We are virtualizing our entire SP portfolio. The year 2013 is one where the concept of “Network Function Virtualization” (NfV) caught the industry by storm. In NfV, virtualized network functions are software appliances executing on virtual machines delivered in a telco cloud environment. In a nutshell, NfV is attractive to our customers because it allows them to clearly delineate the respective values of software, hardware and professional services for total solution integration. Practices based on data center techniques promise to reduce the cost of operating the network and simplify work processes through the agility we are seeing today in the cloud environment. And none of this evolution will compromise the ability of service providers to deploy multi-vendor solutions though it is fair to state, procurement practices will need to re-align to this brave new world. For example, rather than procure integrated network functions to be assembled into a network, service providers may have to separate out  layers Read More »

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How a Snowboarding ‘Wipeout’ Can Guide You On SDN Deployment

 

As I was thinking about how best to advise you on how to “experiment” with SDN technologies, and more specifically why you should run a formal pilot to evaluate SDN technology options (a topic I covered in my previous blog), I was reminded of this “wipeout” picture I took last year at a “freeride” competition – the “Coe Cup”  – at my local ski mountain, Glencoe Moutain Resort, here in the UK.   Let me tell you why!

Why you may want to "pilot" new technology adoption!

Why you may want to “pilot” new technology adoption!

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Cisco Evolved Services Platform: OPEN for business

In the announcement of the Cisco Evolved Services Platform last week, we not only highlighted our initial service offers in mobility and video and the business benefits it enables, but also that it was open, extensible and elastic.  Openness is critical for providers by nature of the fact that their networks – often global in scope and mind-boggling in scale – require all the different technologies and often from different vendors installed to create the network experience desired actually can work together.  If not, it limits the offers they can take to market or requires operational contortions to make work, either of which would affect the provider’s ability to do business.

That’s why our engineering teams are so focused on making the Evolved Services Platform so Open.  They have incorporated Openstack and Open Daylight (SDN) protocol suite; they’ve made it fully compliant with ETSI NfV (MANO), 3GPP Gi-LAN and more.  In fact, their efforts in the more than 60 standards bodies helps us to factor into our roadmaps the latest understanding of the current standards and, just as importantly, where they are going.

But in addition to standards, the Cisco Evolved Services Platform needs to also be multi-vendor.  And on the first day of our largest tradeshow of the year, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where pleased to highlight Broadsoft, Intel and Mavenir are joining in their endorsement of our approach.  Here’s what they said:

“At BroadSoft we are the leading application provider and working toward the NFV implementation with an open eco-system. We share an open platform strategy with Cisco around virtualization, orchestration and automation that provides an environment where customers, partners, and independent developers can freely innovate and develop integrated applications that offer greater value to users.  We are excited to work with Cisco to provide a virtualized/orchestrated VoLTE solution on the Cisco Evolved Services Platform.”, said Scott Hoffpauir, Chief Technology Officer, BroadSoft.

“With the virtualization capabilities enabled with the Evolved Services Platform, Cisco is able to address industry requirements for orchestration of services across both virtual and physical infrastructure,” said Rose Schooler, Vice President and General Manager of the Intel Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group.  “By utilizing the advanced features of the Intel Xeon server platform, Cisco is able to deliver solution architectures that are enabling the performance agility on fully open compute systems that service providers need to quickly scale new services, more customized to customer needs, with a faster time to market.”

“Virtualization is transforming our business by providing the agility, flexibility and profitability for service innovations. More importantly, providing  a cloud platform that is open, extensible and elastic for mobile solution providers is a key step toward realizing this direction. We are pleased to see Cisco making this vision a reality to the industry and its partners by providing the Cisco Evolved Services Platform.”, said Bahram Jalalizadeh, EVP of Business Development, Mavenir Systems

These, along with Openwave Mobility and Metaswitch, make up the initial members of the Cisco Evolved Services Platform Ecosystem, to help avoid making multi-vendor environment hamper a SP operations but rather to help give the service provider flexibility to pursue even more opportunities as they stay Open for business.

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Three light beams that emanated from OpenDaylight Summit

Earlier this month, I attended the first ever summit on OpenDaylight (ODL) project in Santa Clara, CA. This near sold out event was largely successful by many standards. It brought together a large number of great minds to the table to solve some of the toughest challenges the networking industry is facing around Software-defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV). The group announced a first major step forward with the first open source software release called Hydrogen.  The bulk of the credit goes to 154 contributors from Cisco, IBM, Ericsson, Red Hat, Citrix and others who wrote over a million lines of code in past ten months to make this happen.

The two-day summit was packed with a variety of sessions that were geared towards a diverse set of audience. The sessions varied from general topics to specific topics such as relevance of Open source software, NFV, LISP, standards, discussions on North and South bound APIs, developer tutorials for building applications & tool chain, using OpenStack with ODL, analytics, test automation, and a true story of SDN in production environment.

Of all these topics, here are the three important themes that stood out to me –

    1.      The importance of an Open Source, community initiative for SDN

The concept of Open Source software has been around since decades. It is fast catching up in the non-traditional realms of computer networking. For some, the concept of open source equates to free software. While this is partially true, I strongly believe that open=free is a misnomer. I have started to realize that open source and further, the collaborative initiatives like ODL is far beyond the notion of freeness. In my view, the most important thing that such an initiative does is to gather right minds to bring out bright ideas. The collective wisdom that emanates from such a collaborative initiative helps vendors develop a cohesive set of products that speaks a common language, and perhaps share certain fundamental design constructs to aid interoperability. At the same time, I believe that this collaboration helps to compress the infinite ways vendors can built products to a bounded, agreed upon set of behaviors and interfaces. Customers are real beneficiaries of such an open initiative due to this standardization and better product interoperability. As Vijay Pandey from IBM aptly said in one of his presentations, open source initiatives like ODL “promote innovation and raise the value bar.”

Cisco firmly believes in and supports such open source initiatives. Cisco is a platinum member of ODL project, as well as a Gold member of OpenStack Foundation. You can find more information about OpenStack at Cisco , and a rich set of Cisco Services to help you exploit and adopt OpenStack.

 

    2.      What and how much to Standardize (North and South bound APIs)

In the summit, there were several interesting debates on what to standardize and how much. With regards to how much, I am with Guru Parulkar’s mantra to “standardize as little as possible.”

One of the core capabilities that SDN brings to the table is the notion around exposing interfaces from control plane to the infrastructure layer (South Bound APIs or SBI) and to the application/business layer (North bound APIs or NBI).  We talked about using common approach for design constructs above, and the APIs are central to the constructs. However, if we (are somehow able to) standardize every hook into the system, we are forcing the industry to take a “single” approach to solve the underlying problems. Additionally, I believe that such an approach will not only go against the very notion of openness, but will also hinder innovation and ability to provide unique experiences.

If we talk about SBI, we rightly need some standardized ways to abstract some of the infrastructure complexities. I learnt that ODL will include support for SDN open standards such as OpenFlow, VxLAN, PCEP etc. Similar to SBI, can we standardize the NBI’s as well?

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