At Cisco Live 2014 this week, Cisco had a lot to say about its Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI), the policy-based networking behind it, and the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) that makes it all go.
As we wait for APIC availability in “the summer,” as Cisco now puts it (they’d been saying the second quarter, which could still be true), a lot of questions linger. Pricing comes to mind; APIC will carry a base price plus a license, but we don’t have numbers assigned to those yet.
In the meantime, here’s a sampling of stray thoughts from Cisco Live, either about ACI or about the business around it. Maybe it answers some of your questions; more likely, it just opens new ones.
How ACI Plays in Brazil
Here’s an ACI use case, courtesy of Eduardo Maldonado Rosa, managing director of cloud for Universo Online S.A. (UOL), a service provider in Brazil. He was part of a customer panel that Cisco trotted out for Wednesday’s ACI-focused keynote. (He’s at the far right in the photo.)
UOL’s networks already use VXLAN and VLAN automation. What they couldn’t do, though, is automate processes across multiple different networks.
“It would be quite good for us, the automation of VXLAN and VLAN like we have now — if we had only our own equipment there. But we have a very heterogeneous network. It’s very hard to automate all of the things customers ask of us,” Maldonado Rosa told me after the session.
Some of UOL’s customers request specific vendors and topologies for their networks, creating incompatible islands. UOL will use ACI as a blanket layer to automate management across those clouds and data centers. “It’s very difficult to do that with VXLAN-and-VLAN automation,” Maldonado Rosa said.
But he added: “It doesn’t mean we are going to throw away all of our automation, because it works with the networks we have now.”
Cisco and the New Software Mindset
Cisco wants to move sales toward a licensing model, to behave more like a software business. I briefly asked Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of marketing for the Insieme unit (far left in the photo above) about the transition. “We’re getting there,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but that that’s the direction we’re heading in.”
Whether that’s true could take years to bear out, as Cisco’s transition to licensing models won’t happen overnight. For those who follow Cisco as a business, it’s something to keep in mind.
For what it’s worth, one source who knows a lot about software businesses thinks Cisco isn’t even close. The culture, the accounting, the back-end systems — they’re all very different between a hardware business and a software business. With the obvious exception of the WebEx group, Cisco doesn’t have the parts or the culture for the transition, the source believes.
Another ACI Use Case: The IWAN
One of this week’s bigger ACI announcements was actually a repeat from Cisco Live Milan, in March: the APIC Enterprise Module, a version of APIC that will reach into Cisco’s older equipment, such as Catalyst switches and the Integrated Services Routers (ISR). It’s not particularly surprising; Cisco has been saying ACI will reach across the entire Cisco-based network, including the access layer, now that Cisco offers GPON.
Rob Soderbery, senior vice president of Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Group, demonstrated this during the Wednesday keynote with the help of developer Blue Lang (their photo made it into our slideshow). The demo was about management of the IWAN, Cisco’s term for using the Internet to supplement the WAN. Part of the challenge is to keep security intact, even for traffic venturing across the Internet, and to enforce policies accordingly, since those Internet links won’t be as trusted as MPLS leased lines.
The demo used APIC to discover the overall IWAN topology and then distribute applications accordingly. The idea was to map apps into particular categories (those that are or aren’t OK to send on the public Internet, for instance) and then map the categories to IWAN connections.
How SDN Could Be Like Flip
Cisco CEO John Chambers thinks SDN is his company’s opportunity to lose — and he knows what it means to lose. In a Q&A session with reporters Tuesday, Chambers referred to the company’s doomed foray into consumer products, including the Flip camera and the Umi home-telepresence system. It was a good risk; we missed it,” he said. His concern is that Cisco might likewise miss its chance with SDN.
That’s a bit of a humblebrag; the statement essentially says Cisco doesn’t think it can be beaten on the basis of technology. Bravado was in no short supply this week. Anyway, I thought the reference to the consumer-products strategy was pertinent. Cisco really thought it had something there. But I don’t think execution was the only reason it didn’t work.
The Opposing View
Several Cisco competitors held their own Anti-Cisco-Live at the St. Regis San Francisco Hotel Tuesday evening. The Cloud Innovators gathering, as it was called, was kept quiet, an invitation-only affair aimed at customers. Presenters and organizers included Arista, Broadcom, F5, Palo Alto Networks, Riverbed, and VMware, sources say. We haven’t yet gleaned the specifics of the discussion.
Such gatherings are probably becoming common at any of these big-company events, especially since the Cisco Lives and Oracle OpenWorlds have usurped the roles of large tradeshows. Think of Marc Benioff’s alternative keynote outside of OpenWorld in 2011. There’s an audience for this sort of thing.
You’ll find other Cisco Live coverage here:
- Cisco Live 2014, Slideshow 1: Keynotes, Dancers, and the Best Beard at Cisco
- DevOps, SDN, and Network Brokering: Vendors Storm Cisco Live
- Cisco Spruces Up ACI for Center Stage at Cisco Live
- Cisco Will ‘Lead the Industry’ in SDN, CEO Chambers Says
- Cisco’s SDN WAN Picture Has Shades of Cyan
- Cisco, Still Seeking Growth, Claims Its SDN Breakout Is Underway