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Is ACI Really SDN? One Point of View to Clarify the Conversation

January 22, 2014 at 10:00 am PST
rose

Would SDN, by any other name, still smell as sweet?

Perhaps I’m in the minority that is still frustrated by this, but as a marketing person who is tasked with explaining technology and solutions to customers and prospects, I feel hamstrung by a lack of a widely agreed upon definition of what is and is not “SDN” still. This usually comes up in discussions about our new Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), and how it compares to traditional SDN concepts, as well as alternative approaches, such as overlay networks advocated by VMware.

The topic came up again this with a NetworkWorld article in which the head of VMware’s network virtualization business is now saying, “SDN will never happen” (our rebuttal). Well, what is happening, if it’s not SDN? Or just because the technology has evolved, do we need to create a new term just because some early assumptions the industry made have changed?  As we start out a new year, I thought it a good time to try and reframe the definition, and look at how the trends in SDN may be shaping up to extend the concept into new areas.

Why do customers need SDN?

By early 2012, there was so much hype and expectations around Software Defined Networking, focused on the ability to “program” the network, that real customer use cases and the killer SDN app was lost in the conversation. But what slowly emerged, that is driving all the investment, pilots and product designs is a much better way to manage the data center and cloud network, and to automate IT tasks so that the infrastructure could respond dynamically to rapidly changing business conditions and requirements. The “intelligence” to make all that happen is moving from the network devices and device management consoles, to centralized policy-management platforms, orchestration tools and cloud-managers.

What’s caused the biggest evolution in SDN is the realization that very few organizations really have the desire, skills and incentives to write a new class of applications to a published API to program the network. These users are outlying use cases compared to the vast majority of organizations just looking to automate IT tasks, accelerate application deployment, make their cloud networks more flexible, and better align their IT infrastructure with business requirements. The focus has shifted from SDN being an open API/controller platform, to a platform capable of hosting a myriad of orchestration and IT workflow automation solutions that drive customers to their end goal. To that end, ACI is meeting all those objectives, and in more advanced and innovative ways than earlier SDN approaches.

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See Cisco at Open Networking User Group

Late October is the start of the colorful fall season in East Coast and taking a ferry ride up the Hudson river in Big Apple is a photographer’s delight. Not to mention the vibrant Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, with hundreds of people dressing up in outrageous costumes. While you are enjoying the scenery, come meet our good Cisco folks talk about writing SDN Applications on controllers at the Open Network User Group (ONUG) event on October 29-30 hosted by JPMorgan Chase at their New York City headquarters.

On both days, we are giving a live demo of the Extensible Network Controller (XNC) and specifically, the Latency Optimized Forwarding application. This is a very good opportunity to see live, how the network administrator can easily and transparently create a custom forwarding path through the network. Moreover, on Day 1, we have Chris Marino giving a presentation on OpenStack Networking: Software Defined Networks in cloud environments. All around, it is a wonderful opportunity to interact with the Cisco team to get insights into how to implement SDN in your Data Centers in a low risk way.

Hope to see you there and good luck if you are running the world famous New York City Marathon on Nov 3rd !

To learn more about XNC, please visit http://www.cisco.com/go/xnc

To learn more about ONUG and event agenda, please visit http://opennetworkingusergroup.com/

 

 

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