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Cisco Open Network Environment – Leading the Network (R)evolution

June 13, 2012 - 2 Comments

Today, at Cisco Live, San Diego, we announced the Cisco Open Network Environment or Cisco “ONE – the industry’s most comprehensive approach for network programmability. It is a strategic and ambitious initiative from Cisco to continue to make networks more open, programmable and application-aware. And yes, it includes elements of software-defined networking as well.

With this announcement, we intend to put to rest all speculations and rumors on Cisco’s strategy for network programmability (including SDN) and put the focus back where it belongs – on our customers.

The Vision: Multi-layered programmability

We had discussed about our customer use-cases, Cisco’s engagement with standards bodies as well as the taxonomies that we’re aligning to, in the webinar we did with Morgan Stanley on May 30th, 2012 sharing Cisco’s SDN strategy. These lay the foundation for Cisco’s vision socialized as part of David Ward’s service provider panel at the last ONS gathering in April 2012, and subsequently at Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior’s keynote at Interop, Las Vegas.


We had indicated that our approach would be broader than what is currently defined as SDN  (by the Open Networking Foundation) as we introduced the concept of multi-layer programmability.   The journey can be undertaken with existing or new deployment models, on routers and switches already in racks via a software update, or via an external controller, all the while providing the benefits of both harnessing the network intelligence and being able to program at any layer for optimized experience.  

This is a very important construct that has been largely lost in the hype. Many have forgotten that the network has a lot of intelligence in it. At Cisco the investment we make in our silicon and software is a reflection of this (it is one reason why we have not been commoditized in for example, with Ethernet switching for over a decade, though Ethernet is a standard and a fairly ubiquitous technology. Or, for that matter with standards based IP).   

The Strategy: Cisco Open Network Environment

To deliver against this notion of multi-layer programmability, we announced our strategy of the Cisco Open Network Environment – or Cisco “ONE”.  

Cisco’s Open Network Environment is a multi-pronged strategy that will deliver the industry’s broadest approach to programmability built on the industry’s most comprehensive networking portfolio and industry standards. To execute on this strategy we will continue to invest in and bring synergy across both hardware and software, drive consistency between physical and virtual and blur the boundaries across network and compute.

The Open Network Environment will be delivered via a rich set of platform APIs, controllers and agents as well as through virtual overlay networks. This strategy has not been developed in a vacuum. We’ve vetted it with customers across different segments, refined it with knowledgeable analysts and worked with several thought leaders in the industry.

The Innovations:

 As part of Cisco’s Open Network Environment, we’re announcing new innovations across the portfolio.

  1. onePK – One Platform Kit for developers that would provide a rich set of APIs, tools and SDK consistently across IOS, IOS-XR and NX-OS platforms. It lets customers bring application driven networking in an evolutionary way with a rich set of APIs that can address a variety of use-cases. onePK does not require any de-coupling of control and data planes and we will not be categorizing this as an SDN solution. This approach offers choice and open ness at multiple levels and across multiple deployment models. With a majority of customers that don’t require the de-coupling of control and data planes, but want to derive the benefits of application-driven programmability, it offers a way to get there – in an evolutionary manner. 
  2. Proof-of-concept controllers for SDN research and OpenFlow agents – these will be research/experimental purposes and targeted towards Universities and research institutions. The primary use case is campus network “slicing”. Proof-of-concept Openflow support   concept will be available on the Catalyst 3750-X and 3560-X switches.  Based on the current definition of SDN, these offerings will help our customers to evaluate emerging network models
  3. Virtual Overlay  solutions– these will leverage the Nexus 1000V technology as a building block, bringing support for OpenStack, multi-hypervisor support (including open source hypervisors from Citrix and Red Hat, in addition to the support for VMware and Microsoft hypervisors already available), and VXLAN gateway funcationality for scalable multi-tenant cloud solutions .  These cover all the use-case requirements that we’re seeing across our customer base from Universities, to Service Providers, Cloud, Massively Scalable Data Centers and mainstream Enterprise.

To be clear, both the onePK and our overlay network solutions will NOT be categorized as SDN solutions, the latter being a well-defined use-case for multi-tenant cloud deployments with OpenStack and not OpenFlow.

Flexibility to choose:

As part of the Cisco Open Network Environment, customers will get to choose protocols, APIs and deployment models. It is not an either-or strategy, but one of “and”. They can choose between different deployment models as well. One destination – multiple routes to get there.

OpenStack for scalable, multi-tenant cloud environments. OpenFlow for research purposes, and onePK for everything programmable. onePK clearly provides a rich set of features and allows customers to harness intelligence in a more comprehensive way that can span across use-cases. It also represents a cultural transition for networking. And cultural transitions do not happen overnight. Over time, Cisco will be handholding customers and enabling partners to make this transition easier, safer and more comfortable. To that end we’ll be providing support via developer portals, training and certification courses as well as building an infrastructure to help ISVs scale.

We’ll be taking baby steps in this direction with phased customer trials and proof-of-concept deployments.

Why Cisco is best positioned to lead this transition:

We are playing here from a position of strength. What any other competitor bring to the table, we can do better across each of the deployment models AND across all the deplyoment models. And this is not just a technology argument. We expect this to be a cultural transition, at a scale that has never been attempted before in the industry, especially with onePK. There will be stumbles, but there will also be learnings. The learnings will help all of us.

We know the industry expected us to lay out this strategy sooner, but we given our large customer base, we had to take time rationalize and put things in perspective. Unlike startups that could shoot for headlines and create hype, we had to take a more pragmatic approach to avoid  confusing our customers and partners with a silo’d view.

We shared all this with the media today in a live press conference that was also broadcast to all attendees worldwide.  David Yen, our SVP/GM for Data Center Group, David Ward and Prashant Gandhi, Sr.Director of the Data Center group joined me,  as we shared laid this out and then segued to an interactive Q&A session. For those of you who missed it, it will be available online at Be sure to check out the other presentations and demonstrations of several of these concepts.

It will be interesting to see this transition play itself out. We will continue to raise awareness, and share our learnings as we move forward. It is important that we all engage, experience and to educate – ourselves and others, as we break through the hype cycle and put the focus where it belongs – on our customers.

 So, is all this a revolution or an evolution? We believe it is a bit of both. So how about (R)evolution?

Stay tuned and keep networking.


Shashi Kiran


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  1. Completely with you it agree! Thanks!

  2. A versatile and broad approach to network programmability!