What does turnkey mean, exactly? 

Turnkey implies that an end user simply must turn a key to start using a product or service. But what if the key is hard to turn? The desire for a vendor’s product to be turnkey is not a new ambition. I may be dating myself, but perhaps you remember a term introduced by a vendor in the 90’s called plug and play.

Then, perhaps you’ve heard network engineers say, “You mean plug and pray?” when it came time to deploy. It might be said sarcastically, but the skepticism when adopting a new technology or network device is sincere.

Vendors take different approaches when marketing their products and their capabilities. One of the vendors in this space claims the adjective turnkey as the key differentiator for a management platform they introduced several years ago.

Turnkey is not much different from what plug and play intended to be. TechTarget defines turnkey as the following:

“A product or service that is designed, supplied, built, or installed fully complete and ready to operate. The term implies that the end user just must turn a key and start using the product or service.”  Source: TechTarget

What about customers?

Now, does how a networking vendor markets their management platform matter to the customer?

What’s important to the customer is that the product meets their requirements and ultimately if the product does what the vendor said it would do. For example, if a vendor’s description of their management tool being turnkey is intended to claim support as a solution for “…network-wide workload orchestration and workflow automation.”

When it comes to approaching network automation, it’s important to consider the spectrum of customers and tools available for automating a data center fabric. A “do it yourself” customer may have a skilled team of NetOps engineers, fully equipped with resources and experience in custom development and integration into new and existing tooling. They may even create network elements and manage them using Infrastructure-as-Code integrated into a CI/CD pipeline.

Unfortunately, not all customers are equipped to support and adopt this model. Other customers may have experience in or understand fundamentals of designing large scale data center fabrics but may not have the coding skills for an automation framework. Both customers with varying levels of resources and experience share a common business outcome: they’re expected to increase network agility for deployments while automating operations.

When customers are considering a turnkey solution, they need more than a dashboard that manages config snippets. They need an automation tool not only capable of supporting the initial configuration but doesn’t fall short when it comes to expanding beyond Day 0 and automating multiple data center fabrics.  Customers looking to deploy multi-site connectivity need to evaluate the tool and ask the vendor how their offering is turnkey and how their offer is not turnkey.

A customer might ask…

  • How is a tool considered turnkey if a customer is required to tag every device and every interface in its inventory before using the automation work flows?
  • If a workflow isn’t available in the tool, does the customer need to create Python scripts for network wide automation? Does the vendor help creating the custom scripts and maintaining if I need to add a feature? How is this a turnkey approach for the customer?
  • If the customer wants to automate and create multi-site EVPN-VXLAN fabrics, does the customer need to understand the vendor ‘s command line interface and hierarchical constructs of a BGP-EVPN VXLAN Fabric and each of the roles? How long would this take?

What do customers want, then?

Customers want to be able to streamline their data center automation and build an architecture based on cloud principles with the ability to reduce their deployment time of EVPN-VXLAN fabrics to minutes.

Cisco NDFC Multi-Site Domain Fabric Template

This is where the Cisco Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller (NDFC) outperforms other networking vendor automation tools. It provides an easy-to-use and reliable way for customers to adopt an automation framework with minimal input. Customers can leverage the Multi-Site Domain Fabric template for automation across multiple sites. The template also provides the ability to automate the Data Center interconnect properties, with the option to enable encryption on the Border Gateways using a simple point and click means for automation.


Not only does NDFC support NX-OS-based Nexus Series switches, NDFC also supports EVPN-VXLAN automation for IOS-XE Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches and managed mode for IOS-XR devices such as the ASR 9000 and NCS5500. This increases the functionality for customers deploying non-Nexus switches. Customers can standardize on NDFC as the automation platform using the same tool across multiple domains under a single pane of glass with Cisco Nexus Dashboard.

What about visibility of endpoints connecting into the fabrics?

NDFC supports compute visibility of virtual machines and containers built directly into the user-interface. This benefits the network operator as compute visibility is ordinarily siloe’d within compute administration. NDFC also integrates VMware topology into its dynamic topology views by simply discovering the vCenter to illustrate how the virtual machine, host, and virtual switches are interconnected.

VM visibility on fabric topology view

It should be mentioned that CNDFC also caters to our customer automation readiness example with the more experienced NetOps team providing representational state transfer (RESTful) and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) APIs to allow easy integration from Cisco or third-party overlay managers and enable the automation to meet customer’s needs. It also includes self-documented “swagger”-style built-in documentation, with examples, and there are over 17,000 downloads of the Ansible collection for the Cisco Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller.

Why Cisco?

Did you know there are over 10,000+ customers currently using the Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller? To quote one of them:

“Speed is the key to winning business. Since we implemented these Cisco technologies, we’ve been able to deploy new client environments faster than the identified delivery date.”

Khoa Tran, Network Architect, MacStadium

Cisco Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller is a proven and powerful automation tool for the Cloud Networking era. It provides customers with the best practice templates to automate standards based EVPN-VXLAN fabrics for a best-in-class infrastructure.

What does turnkey mean to you?

With Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller, customers can automate Secure EVPN Fabrics without having to take a coding bootcamp. Customers can establish multi-site connectivity and orchestration with point and click automation. This accelerates data center deployments and provides a much simpler approach versus other network controllers disguised as configuration managers.


See for yourself. Register for upcoming Cisco Nexus Dashboard demos and browse the on-demand library.

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Richard Licon

Principle Technical Marketing, Engineering

Product Management - Competitive Insights