In a broad counter-move to the growing momentum behind open networking protocols and a raft of Software Defined Networking (SDN) startups, Cisco today announced its own open protocol, called Opflex, for provisioning and controlling applications on network.
Call this Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) Part II. Late last year, Cisco unveiled ACI, its plan for making its networking gear more software-aware. Today’s announcement furthers the vision of how it will plug the new wave of SDN technology into the data center, adding its own new standard was well as interoperability with a range of startups.
“Cisco is making steps to embrace the idea of software control in the network,” says Barry Eggers, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, which has backed a number of networking and SDN-focused companies including Nicira, Embrane, and more recently, Avi Networks. “They are reaching out to an ecosystem that will help them do that. A lot of people say Cisco doesn’t get it, but they get the trend. For them it’s about how to offer their customers and evolutionary path. There are a bunch of startups that will help them do that.”
OpFlex will enabled layer 4-7 switches and networking devices to be configured via automated software. The protocol was co-developed with Citrix, IBM, Microsoft, and Sunguard and the companies plan to standardize the protocol with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Cisco will also publish open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allow other hardware and software developers to work with OpFlex.
OpFlex will interoperate with OpenDaylight, an open-source based “controller” designed to work with networking hardware, enabling applicaions to be provisioned and managed by a separate software interface removed from the hardware. This is known in the industry as virtualualization of hardware.
In today’s release, Cisco said network services vendors such as Avi Networks, Citrix, Embrane, and F5 Networks plan to support OpFlex in their hardware and software products. Cisco recently made a big investment in Embrane.
At first blush, Cisco isn’t necessarily positioning OpFlex as a direct competitor to open-source solutions such as OpenDaylight. But it is clear that Cisco is crafting an alternative for its own customers so that they don’t feel obligated to move to open-source projects such as OpenDaylight in order to virtualize their networking infrastructure.
In fact, Cisco made the remarkable decision to play up OpenDaylight in its press release, pointing out that The “OpenDaylight membership represents 60 percent of data center capital expenditures worldwide and includes a broad cross section of industry leaders and the policy project includes contributors from IBM, Midokura and Plexxi.”
Yes, Cisco appears to be playing nice with open networks. But it can also be seen as a crafty plan to give its own customers a Cisco-stamped route to the virtualized network. It’s a big move by Cisco to flesh out its own vision of wha SDN exactly is. It also indicates that the company sees many startups as necessary for developing the market — and possible acquisition bait.