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Cisco competitors say Nexus 9000 brings closed hardware to an open software game

Jim Duffy | Nov. 11, 2013
VMware, Arista Networks, HP react Cisco/Insieme's software defined networking play.

Cisco's network competitors VMware, Arista and HP predictably found holes in this week's launch of the Insieme Networks product line and strategy.

Cisco acquired its remaining interest in Insieme for up to $863 million, and unveiled the spin-in's Nexus 9000 switches, Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy, ACI-optimized NX-OS operating system, and Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC).  The Nexus 9000 hardware supports both custom Insieme ASICs and merchant silicon in the form of Broadcom's Trident II chipset.

The merchant silicon-based "standalone" mode of Nexus 9000 is intended to appeal to those opting for that hardware and open source software. Cisco is making some of Insieme's software available through the open source community.

The custom ASIC-based ACI mode of the Nexus 9000 provides full ACI fabric features managed by the APIC controller. Observers believe ACI mode will appeal mostly to Cisco's enterprise installed base while the standalone mode will be targeted primarily at cloud providers interested in low cost hardware and open source software.

Insieme is Cisco's response to the software-defined networking trend permeating the industry and its perceived threat to Cisco's very lucrative dominance through its availability in open source software and commodity hardware.

With Insieme, Cisco is looking to combat the software overlay approach to network virtualization provided by VMware and its NSX platform; and low priced, extensible merchant silicon-based data center and cloud switching delivered by companies like Arista Networks, and start-up Cumulus Networks with its Linux network operating system.

VMware, which has significant customer overlap with Cisco, actually sees Insieme validating the purpose of NSX and the goals behind the company's software-defined data center strategy; where they diverge is in the approach.

"The difference is in how we solve the problem" of a more agile, application responsive data center, says Chris King, vice president of marketing in VMware's networking and security business unit. "Cisco has chosen more proprietary hardware."

"All of that agility, visibility can be done in a software-define data center and a hardware-defined data center," says Brad Hedlund, engineering architect in VMware's networking and security business unit. "We have all of the aspects of agility at the speed of software."

Hedlund says VMware's NSX network virtualization platform could actually help joint customers migrate from the older Cisco Nexus switches to the new Nexus 9000 line. Cisco has said that the Nexus 2000 fabric extenders will be supported in ACI, as will the Nexus 7000 as a data center interconnect and fabric "pod."

Other Nexus and Catalyst switches will serve their various purposes, but Cisco has technology migration programs in place for customers looking to move to the Nexus 9000 and ACI, which Cisco claims delivers a 75% reduction in total cost of ownership over a merchant silicon-based infrastructure running a software-based network virtualization overlay when upgrading from 10G to 40G.That has VMware scratching its head.


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