Cisco Systems pushed software disaggregation efforts deeper into its Internetworking Operating System (IOS XR) platform. This includes greater hardware support – with a caveat – and more open APIs.
The IOS XR platform is a modular and distributed network operating system targeted at service provider networks. The software creates a routing platform and distributes processes across the control, data, and management planes with their own access controls.
Sumeet Arora, SVP of engineering for Cisco’s core software group, said in a blog post that the hardware support now includes Cisco-powered fixed or modular routers using off-the-shelf silicon. It also supports x86 servers as virtualized software across public clouds.
Arora did note in the post that current device support is limited to “a curated set of third-party devices.” But, that “we will consider additional hardware support in the future.”
In a separate interview, Arora explained that at this point the supported hardware would be a subset of Open Compute Project (OCP)-compliant devices.
“We need to be careful on the needs of our customers and in where we are focused,” Arora said, adding this will be required for both the majority of service providers that want a more complete 360-degree package from Cisco as well as those able to handle most of the software integration work.
Cisco also added its Open Forwarding Abstraction (OFA) API to its model-driven programmability and service layer. The model-driven programmability platform provides transport, protocol, and encoding choices for devices. The service layer API was used as part of a Facebook demonstration of its Open/R protocol running on the IOS XR platform.
Arora explained that the OFA API allows developers to specify the packet forwarding and processing treatment from the data plane. It also provides a “hardware-agnostic mapping function to other network software stacks written for a specific forwarding abstraction or data plane paradigm.”
Arora said that “net-net” this move will “allow for massive automation in the network” and allow service providers to integrate with Cisco’s efforts in more flexible ways.
Cisco in late 2015 initially moved to open its IOS XR platform. The company at that time opened the software to host third-party applications directly on Cisco devices via software development kits (SDKs) and Cisco’s DevNet Developer Program.
“This is not something that is one-and-done,” Arora said of Cisco’s ongoing disaggregation efforts. “That API set has been expanding.”
Brad Casemore, research VP for data center networks at IDC, said Cisco’s latest move should help the vendor cater to an increasingly diverse service provider market.
“Cisco is a huge vendor, and a lot of their customers are at various stages in terms of software adoption,” Casemore said. “Some are looking for a highly integrated approach with more help from vendors, while others are looking for as much disaggregation as possible. This is really geared toward those that have the inside expertise to handle putting together their own software needs.”
As to the true openness of the Cisco efforts – and highlighted by Cisco initially limiting device support to a “curated” set of third-party options, Casemore said: “Openness is an ambiguous term.”
“You can have an open interface with APIs, or have hardware and software that is open,” Casemore said, though he again noted that what customers really want in terms of openness will vary. “We view openness as being open everything. But, that is probably only needed by the most forward-leaning service providers.”