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Cisco reveals OpenFlow SDN killer

Jim Duffy | April 3, 2014
OpFlex protocol for ACI offered to IETF, OpenDaylight.

"Cisco says [the declarative model] scales well, is well aligned with application-workload requirements, and is comparatively easy to manage, but there's no question that it also plays to Cisco's strategy of ensuring that network hardware retains autonomous intelligence, and value," says IDC's Casemore. "OpenFlow could not have served this role. It's meant to serve a model where the control and data planes are decoupled, and in which the switch's intelligence is limited to packet forwarding.

"Cisco has been quite consistent in describing this basic construct, so we should have expected something like OpFlex to surface before long," Casemore adds. "Now it's here."

Cisco is lining up ACI partners in physical and virtual switching, and Layer 4-7 network services, to support OpFlex and write to its APIs. Cisco is proposing it as a standard in the IETF and, with partners IBM, Plexxi and Midokura, submitting OpFlex to the OpenDaylight open source SDN project which it co-founded with IBM -- for an ACI-compatible policy model OpenDaylight plans to offer in its upcoming "Helium" release.

That ACI policy model submission will also include a northbound Group Policy API from Cisco's ACI work, the company said.

Cisco and industry partners are all contributing to this release, and OpenDaylight will ensure an "open" approach and transparency to Cisco's policy-based technology, Cisco says. Still, observers note a not-so-subtle Cisco bend in the direction OpenDaylight is taking."Cisco has been heavily involved with ODL from the start, along with IBM," says ESG's Laliberte. "So it's not a surprise that they would continue to shape and drive ODL."

"I don't know whether Cisco is wielding inordinate influence there, but it's clear Cisco is punching its weight in OpenDaylight -- and Cisco can pack quite a punch," adds Casemore. "The company has done stellar work ensuring that the possible outcomes enabled by OpenDaylight as a platform align with Cisco's product roadmaps and strategic initiatives."

In addition to ACI, Cisco plans to support OpFlex in its Nexus 9000 switches the hardware foundation of ACI -- Nexus 1000V virtual switch, ASR 9000 routers, Nexus 7000 switches and SourceFire security products.

Even though Cisco is the dominant networking vendor in the industry and OpFlex could become a de facto standard by default, the company still has its work cut out for it in explaining such a significant deviation from the SDN model embraced by the rest of the industry.

"While we are still early in the SDN transformation, it will be important for Cisco to clearly articulate why OpFlex is different and provide proof points that this approach is gaining traction with technology partners to deliver solutions that provide business value as well as accelerate the standards process as much as possible," says Laliberte.


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