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Cisco broadens SDN on Nexus switches

Cisco is using open SDN technology to make its Nexus switches more appealing to services providers, enterprises.

SAN DIEGO -- Cisco introduced open technology in the Nexus switch portfolio to make the hardware and the software-defined networking platform that sits on top more appealing to developers, service providers and mainstream enterprises.

Cisco unveiled the improvements at this week's Cisco Live user conference. The enhancements include a software overlay that lets service providers provision and manage network services across the Nexus portfolio, from the 2000 to the 9000 series.

In addition, Cisco is making the NX-OS operating system that drives the switches more developer friendly on the Nexus 3000 and Nexus 9000. The company is also building hooks into its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) for Microsoft's cloud computing service Azure. ACI is Cisco's software-defined networking (SDN) platform for mainstream enterprises.

"Cisco's SDN story is more than just ACI," said Dan Conde, analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group. "You choose what you want depending on your needs."

An overlay network for service providers

Cisco is giving service providers more options for SDN. They can provision network services using a third-party controller or Cisco's new Virtual Topology System (VTS) overlay.

Communications between the Nexus switches and either VTS or a non-Cisco control plane occur over the open BGP EVPN (Border Gateway Protocol Ethernet Virtual Private Network) protocol. Cisco added BGP EVPN support to the Nexus 9000 in February.

The layer beneath the control plane is an encapsulation protocol called VXLAN. The technology is used to run an overlay network on Layer 3 infrastructure. Arista Networks, VMware and Cisco developed VXLAN to help engineers scale out cloud computing environments.

Cisco's SDN story is more than just ACI.
Dan Condeanalyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group

Cisco has struggled in selling networking gear to service providers. Orders from cable companies and carriers fell 17% in the U.S. and 7% globally in the quarter ended in April. To return to growth, the company is building open technology across its Nexus switches to make them more appealing to this hard-to-reach group.

Developer tools for a new generation of cloud-based companies

In NX-OS, Cisco has built application-programming interfaces (APIs) to support open-source tools on the Nexus 3000 and 9000. Supported tools include Puppet and Chef, which are network-automation software, and Nagios and Ganglia for network monitoring. Cisco has also added support for Linux utilities and a software development kit for custom application integration.

The features are targeted at a new breed of company that operates in the cloud, said IDC analyst Brad Casemore. These organizations follow a DevOps development model that blends the tasks performed by application development and systems operations teams.

"They don't look like traditional enterprises, technologically or operationally," Casemore said. "Over time, there will be more of them across every vertical industry."

Cisco plans to release VTS in the second half of the year. The NX-OS upgrade is set for release in the third quarter.

For mainstream enterprises, Cisco said it will release an ACI update for the Nexus 9000 that will let a company provision network services to applications deployed in Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service. The update will be released this month.

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