With the interconnection of billions of devices in public and private networks and many applications and services moving to the cloud, software is increasingly becoming independent of and abstracted from hardware. At public cloud vendors like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, hardware has been commoditized and software has taken center stage.

At Cisco, resellers and enterprise customers put complex solutions together using our products. The integration of switches, routers, and other gear with software used to require up to a one-year qualification cycle. But with the cloud providers, it’s immediate. Today, more native cloud concepts have been added to Cisco IOS XE software. Quarter by quarter, our enterprise software is becoming more efficient and cost-effective, more automated, and more programmable.

From Physical to Virtual to Cloud Native 

The first incarnation of Cisco enterprise cloud-enabled products was the virtualization of physical hardware devices in the cloud as virtual machines. They had all the existing concepts and features customers were used to in existing physical Cisco platforms.

In recent years we’ve been moving from physical to virtual to cloud-native products. As customers are becoming more aware and ready to consume cloud-native features, Cisco IOS XE is being enriched to provide those features. At 190 million lines of code―more than 300 million when vendor software development kits (SDKs) and open-source libraries are added―Cisco IOS XE runs 80+ platforms for access, distribution, core, wireless, and WAN layers. It facilitates a myriad of combinations of hardware and software, forwarding, and physical and virtual form factors.

Why Cisco? 

Prospective Cisco customers and competitors may ask, why spend $5000 for an enterprise switch when you can spend $1000? The answer is that our customers know that buying a cheaper switch may lack the features they need. Less expensive gear will also potentially add to their maintenance costs because the components may not be as good as Cisco’s.

Another reason to buy Cisco is due to the breadth of our enterprise portfolio. Any one company can do one vertical market well. With IOS XE, we have integrated everything across the networking software stack, and across the entire enterprise network, and we’re working to keep it simple across multiple network domains.

Efficiency and Cost-effectiveness 

With networking becoming increasingly feature-rich and complex, simpler networking software translates to greater efficiency, a smaller headcount, and fewer onsite visits to fix problems. For example, Cisco IOS XE provides simplified app hosting using a Docker image in a container and deployment using device controller tools. It supports third-party, off-the-shelf applications built using Linux toolchains that allow business apps to run at the network edge.

Other examples include the simplification of development, debugging, and device validation with Cisco Platform Abstraction (CPA) and unified software tracing that integrates traces from software running anywhere in a network for more complete visibility into 100+ processes in real-time. Another example of Cisco IOS XE simplicity is virtualization technology that runs over optical fiber, enabling switches to be physically located up to thousands of miles away from each other.

The Power of Automation 

Cisco IOS XE is becoming more and more self-driving. Cisco developers are increasingly taking away the manual tasks required to manage the network by automating them. That makes networks easier and cheaper to maintain and faster to debug.

Examples include the automation of image upgrades using Cisco DNA Center and support for programmable microservices to replace manual device upgrades, repurposing, and management. Other automated processes include streaming telemetry and analytics in all layers of software that run at the speed of events observed (e.g., faster than two million route updates per second) to handle the huge scale of networking operations.


Systems administrators in enterprise companies are constantly upgrading, repurposing, and managing thousands of switches. An advanced networking software stack must be able to manage multi-vendor networks using native and open-source data models. Cisco IOS XE supports a suite of Google Remote Procedure Call (gRPC)-based microservices that simplify and lighten workloads with programmability. They allow administrators to programmatically manage Cisco enterprise devices.

The IOS XE Development Environment  

A lot of enterprise software takes years to develop. The Cisco software development environment rolls out new solutions in months.

Developers spend 60-70% of their time developing software instead of application logic. The IOS XE development environment is automating as many common capabilities (like show commands, tracing, telemetry, export for dashboard, hand wiring HA code, testing base ISSU compatibility checks, and mocking for unit tests) as possible to avoid the need to hand code them. With hand coding, every one of these features would require developers to generate two-to-three times as much code. Hand coding is also not amenable to automated, flexible deployments and in the current development trajectory will not fit into the low-footprint devices we ship.

The Cisco Enterprise Networking software development team works at a solution level, conducting pre-qualification testing and providing the tools to control an entire enterprise dashboard from a single dashboard.

These are exciting times at Cisco.


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Sarang Samant

Director, Engineering

EN Eng PI IOS/XE Polaris - US