At its Partner Summit 2016 conference today, Cisco delivered a set of combination punches designed to knock several competitors off balance by making it simpler and cheaper for IT organizations to standardize on both Cisco networking and servers employing software-defined architectures.
To that end, Cisco unfurled a Digital Network Architecture (DNA) that makes use of programming to reduce the cost of networking at all levels, along with its first hyperconvergence appliance.
At the same time, Cisco also introduced a new line of Nexus 9000 data center switches capable of running at 10, 25, 40, 50, and 100 Gb/s based on its ASICs, while at the same time unveiling a Nexus 3000 series of 25-, 50-, and 100-Gb/s switches based on commercial silicon.
The end goal of all three initiatives is to fundamentally reduce operating costs for customers in a way that is open enough to forestall any defections to rival vendors touting more open networking environments.
For example, Prashanth Shenoy, senior director of enterprise networks for Cisco, notes that customers can now invoke open Cisco applications programming interfaces at both the network hardware level and at the controller level. That approach allows IT organizations to decide whether they want to take advantage of the automation and analytics capabilities that Cisco provides via its controllers or opt to use a controller or management plane provided by another vendor.
“We’re open at the network hardware and operating system layer directly via APIs,” says Shenoy. “We’re also exposing another set of APIs on the controller that organizations and partners can use to develop their own applications.”
To enable that development, Cisco specifically added support for model-driven APIs to its controller. Additional third-party partners that have plugged into those Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) APIs include Veritas, Infoblox, N3N, Tufin, and vArmour.
In addition, Cisco announced that its Cisco IOS XE operating system also now includes support for enterprise network functions virtualization (Enterprise NFV) capabilities that allow IT organizations to deploy routing, firewall, WAN Optimization, WLAN Controller, and other orchestration services any place they want.
Cisco, meanwhile, is using the APIs in the APIC-EM controller to add support for a plug-and-play application that automates configuration management; a Cisco Intelligent WAN (IWAN) application that automates configuration of wide-area networks; and a Cisco Easy Quality-of-Service (Easy QoS) application that dynamically updates QoS settings.
At the same time, Cisco is taking advantage of those APIs to move its management plane into the cloud. The first Cisco management application to be delivered using that model is CMX Cloud, which organization can use to on-board new users to a wireless network while also tracking the behavior of users on those networks. Cisco also announced today that it intends to acquire CliQr Technologies, a provider of an IT management framework that is hosted in the cloud, for $260 million.
In much the same way that Cisco is pursuing interoperability at the software level, its hardware strategy is now bifurcated between switches designed on its silicon versus commercial silicon manufacture by Broadcom. Customers then have the option of deploying Cisco software on its switches, using a different controller, or layering on top another operating system. The goal is to give customers a choice of platforms, even though Cisco strongly asserts that network hardware and software running on Cisco-developed silicon fundamentally scales better and is less costly to manage.
Finally, Cisco is extending its server ambitions to now include a hyperconvergence appliance, dubbed Cisco HyperFlex Systems. Aimed squarely at enterprise IT environments, the HyperFlex series takes concepts that Cisco pioneered with the development of the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) and applies them to a hypercoverged appliance running VMware that address compute, storage, and networking, says Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for Unified Computing at Cisco.
In contrast, Brannon says rival hyperconverged appliances only address compute and storage.
“We don’t think other platforms are really fully hyperconverged,” he says. “HyperFlex appliances are designed to be completely deployed in less than an hour.”
Collectively, Cisco is positioning these latest product offerings as a reason to standardize on Cisco products and technologies across the enterprise. The degree to which that may actually occur will vary widely. But there’s one issue that Cisco is not going to be as easy to take to task: openness.
“Cisco doesn’t really get enough credit for being open,” says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research. “It used to be they were rightfully criticized for being a closed environment. But today if you knock on the door they will let you in.”