As its Partner Summit kicks off in Las Vegas this evening, Cisco will be trying to assuage any channel partners’ concerns about whether software-defined networking (SDN) will take away some of their business.
It’s not as glitzy a topic as Cisco getting into the cloud services game, a $1 billion commitment that had Silicon Valley abuzz early Monday morning (and that will be delivered through channel partners). But the growing shadow of SDN — and announcements such as that $1 billion cloud bet — might raise questions about whether the channel’s role has to change.
In networking, the sales channel’s job has revolved around selling things — individual systems at first, and more recently, groups of boxes arranged in architectures. Maintenance and installation are moneymakers, too. SDN and various cloud innovations promise a level of automation that would seem to cut into that business — picture a network full of software-based machines that do all the configuration on their own. (That’s the dream, anyway.)
The channel matters to Cisco in the data center — it accounts for more than 80 percent of Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) sales, the company claims — so Cisco wants partners that are happy, not stewing in dread.
So, among the rah-rah moments at Monday evening’s kickoff session, Cisco will discuss the multiple tiers of services that it thinks channel partners could offer in an SDN world.
Installation and configuration would still be valid, especially when it comes to operators that want SDN and traditional networks to co-habitate. But the subtle advice here is that channel partners must break beyond those services or be left behind. (Cisco will probably word this more optimistically.)
The situation mirrors what we’re seeing for network operations personnel: The jobs are moving to a DevOps model, where former “rack-and-stack” jockeys will become network programmers, says Frank D’Agostino, Cisco’s senior director of technical marketing and solutions engineering. “As a part of that, the partner community is changing too,” he says. (You’ll see a lot more about DevOps on SDxCentral in the coming weeks.)
In the top tiers of that diagram, the services become more about the applications than the network. Application design and discovery are two examples of potential higher-end services. Customers might also want help with the Layer 4-7 aspects of SDN, including northbound interfaces and the integration of new security or load-balancing devices into an SDN framework.
Of course, this is all in step with Cisco’s plan to automate the network while creating a more universal role for network policies. That’s what Cisco wants to do with its Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). Details are probably going to come out soon, considering ACI is on the verge of shipping and Interop is happening next week.
Next Steps for Nexus
More formally, Cisco is using the Partner Summit to announce new members of the Nexus 9000 family of switches, the product line delivered by spin-in Insieme as a vehicle for ACI.
That’s the actual “headliner” announcement Monday evening, but it’s not particularly earth-shattering. The Nexus 9508 was already introduced; Cisco is now adding the larger Nexus 9516 — boasting 576 40-Gb/s ports — and the smaller Nexus 9504.