Cisco Systems is assembling a product-development team to open its network hardware products to software-defined networking, according to job listings posted in recent days.
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Cisco is hiring a technical lead and a software engineer with OpenFlow and software-defined networking (SDN) experience. The new Cisco OpenFlow and SDN experts will join the company's "ConnectedApps" team, which is building a software development kit (SDK) that will expose "internal capabilities of Cisco devices to 3rd party application developers to expedite the level of innovation as part of [a] Software-Defined Networking initiative," according to the job listings posted on Cisco's website.
The ConnectedApps team, which operates within the Cisco Operating Systems Technology Group, has not been publicly disclosed before now. However, Cisco spokesman Neil Becker said the team has existed for a while and that its charter has simply changed recently.
He also said the charter is broader than just software-defined networking and is not strictly a Cisco OpenFlow group.
"This is a piece of a larger puzzle across Cisco's networking business," Becker said. "It is not tethered to just one thing."
If Cisco offers an SDK that enables programmability through software-defined networking, it would be the company's first embrace of software-defined networking in its product line. Cisco's posture toward software-defined networking and OpenFlow has been vague to date. When SearchNetworking.com recently asked Cisco CEO John Chambers about his SDN strategy, he declined to offer any specifics.
"We absolutely view it as a viable option for the future, either as a total architecture or segments of it," he said. "If we do our job right, you'll see us move on multiple fronts here. And at the right time, when it is a benefit to our customers, we will outline our strategy for them."
Cisco: OpenFlow is important but it's not a magic bullet
Cisco has been particularly coy with its posture toward OpenFlow, the much-hyped protocol that underpins many of the leading software-defined networking products on the market today. Cisco has joined the Open Networking Foundation, a nonprofit that is guiding the development of OpenFlow. It also sponsors the newly formed Open Networking Research Center, a software-defined networking think tank based at Stanford University and UC Berkeley, schools with deep ties to the inventors of OpenFlow. And Cisco's distinguished engineer David Meyer said the company will start supporting OpenFlow on its Nexus switches soon.
However, Cisco has simultaneously downplayed OpenFlow's potential as an enterprise-grade solution to software-defined networking. At Cisco Live London, CTO Padmasree Warrior said software-defined networking is "broader than OpenFlow" and Ram Velaga, Cisco VP of product management for the data center technology group, said, "OpenFlow is only one of the many [SDN] protocols that are available … at this point we don't think it's production-ready."
Warrior also said in London that Cisco would make APIs available to customers to improve network programmability, but she declined to explicitly identify this as a software-defined networking strategy. The SDK that ConnectedApps is working on appears to be the foundation of such APIs and would appear to have an OpenFlow and SDN flavor to it.
Rumors have also been flying about Insieme, a new Cisco "spin-in" start-up that is reportedly developing software-defined networking technology.
"I've heard rumblings about [ConnectedApps,]" said Zeus Kerravala, principal and founder of ZK Research. "Cisco is realizing the importance of being in on software-defined networking. Cisco does like to hedge their bets. If they see something new might become a real trend, they'll put a development team together. If it doesn't [become a trend], then it goes away. That's what happened with Jawbreaker. It appears to be going away."
With Insieme and ConnectedApps, a Cisco OpenFlow and software-defined networking strategy appears to be taking shape.
Other companies also seek software-defined networking experts
More on Cisco, OpenFlow and software-defined networking
OpenFlow and software-defined networking move beyond buzz
Software-defined networking: Focus on Layer 2 or Layer 3?
Software-defined networking with open APIs will bring real integration
Cisco is not alone in its search for SDN talent. Dell has an opening for a "network virtualization application framework software development engineer" to work out of Palo Alto, Calif. Note that Palo Alto is home to Stanford, epicenter to the OpenFlow movement, while Dell is based in Texas and its networking acquisition Force10 Networks calls San Jose home.
Dell's job listing says this software development engineer will be developing and delivering an advanced "network virtualization application framework to be deployed with [an] OpenFlow Controller which is used to manage Dell and other switches in the Data Center."
IBM, which recently announced an OpenFlow top-of-rack switch and a go-to-market strategy with NEC's OpenFlow controllers, is seeking researchers of next-generation systems to join its New Delhi research team. These researchers will explore all kinds of technologies. One particular area of focus will be data-center networking, where engineers will explore "software-defined networking and OpenFlow, co-optimization of computation, storage & networking, network-aware VM management" and "networking for cloud."
Vyatta, developer of a software-based routing platform, is looking for a senior network software engineer to help develop Vyatta's "next-generation software networking architecture." Skills required include experience with OpenFlow and software-defined networking tools and vSwitch implementations.
Web giants and cloud providers are also looking for SDN and OpenFlow talent. Google, which recently discussed its early use of OpenFlow, is seeking a network research engineer who will design, develop and deploy networks that "challenge and shape industry practices." Candidates have to see "the value in making network elements as universally programmable as CPUs." This engineer will be working with software-defined networking to design a "series of new, research-focused programmable switching platforms."
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