Hand with cables

Insieme, Cisco’s SDN Spin-In, Boldly Goes (Away)

Hand with cablesWhile SDN got scant mention in Cisco’s Insieme Networks swan song — the delayed debut of Application Centric Infrastructure — the future of networking (or at least a future Cisco has already bet just under a billion on) should have a major impact on the entire IT industry. For starters, the company said ACI will accelerate application deployment from months to minutes, and allow the network to rapidly respond to the needs of applications while delivering up to 75% percent TCO savings compared to merchant silicon-based competitor switches and software-only network virtualization solutions. In fact, according to Cisco’s calculations, Insieme, which has now been beamed back up to the mother ship, could be worth as much as $5.75 billion, based on the up-to-$863 million it will cost the company to buy the 15% it doesn’t already own.

Application Centric Infrastructure is comprised of the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), the Nexus 9000 portfolio, and enhanced versions of the NX-OS operating system. Companies that rallied around the ACI flag included BMC, CA Technologies, Citrix, EMC, Embrane, Emulex, F5, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, Panduit, Puppet Labs, NIKSUN, OpsCode, Red Hat, SAP, Splunk, Symantec, VCE and VMware (of NSX fame).

“Applications have become the lifeblood of our economy,” blogged Cisco’s John Chambers for the ACI coming-out party. “Every business is becoming an applications business. Every industry is becoming an application-centric industry, and the business model shift is only accelerating. We all truly live in an application economy now.”

ACI is a transformational approach to data center infrastructure and operations that will bring the simplicity, security and agility that CIOs desperately need for their applications, he wrote. Together with the new Nexus 9000 data center switching portfolio, this represents the most disruptive architectural innovations in IT that Chambers’ seen in more than a decade, and these technologies will future-proof Cisco’s customers’ data centers for the next decade.

Cisco is more than enough reason to give serious attention to ACI, but the support of the likes of BMC, CA, EMC, IBM, Microsoft, Red Hat, SAP and VMware, makes this a truly impressive launch, with implications far beyond the company’s traditional networking turf. The company is looking to shake up a much larger segment of the IT stack, and if its’ success with UCS and VCE is any indication, then betting against Cisco could be a huge mistake.

“By integrating Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure with EMC’s best-of-breed storage infrastructure our mutual customers will have the ability to define application service levels, automatically provision the right infrastructure and monitor system execution in a simple, cost-effective way.”
— Jeremy Burton, executive vice president, Product Operations, Solutions & Marketing, EMC Corporation

“IBM welcomes Cisco’s intent to provide plugin support for OpenStack and collaborate on OASIS TOSCA application orchestration standards, which confirms IBM’s approach with SmartCloud Orchestrator for application deployment.”
–Deepak Advani, general manager, Cloud & Smarter Infrastructure, IBM

“We’re excited to partner with Cisco to bring together our Cloud OS and Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure framework to deliver new integrated networking solutions that allow our customers to take the next step on their cloud computing journey, whether in their datacenters or as part of hybrid clouds.”
–Satya Nadella, executive vice president, Enterprise and Cloud, Microsoft

“The pace of technology innovation has necessitated a new vision for IT and with its Application Centric Infrastructure, Cisco is introducing that vision.”
— Paul Cormier, president, Products and Technologies, Red Hat

That’s a lot of love from Cisco’s partners, but the latest market data indicate just why SDN is generating so much support. The SDN market will grow more than six-fold over the next five years. And as SDN gains momentum through 2H13 and into 2014, there will be additional opportunities for suppliers to sell more hardware; however, most customers will be unwilling to “rip and replace” their infrastructures with new hardware and will instead take a piecemeal approach to deploying SDN (e.g., deploying an SDN controller).

While Cisco, VMware and VCE have all downplayed the possibility of friction between the erstwhile partners, the acquisition of Nicira in 2012 and release of NSX in 2013 certainly muddy the SDN waters. “Basically, ACI is Cisco’s alternative to the OpenFlow SDN framework developed by VMware/Nicira so it can be viewed as analogous to Microsoft’s Hyper-V,” said Charles King, Principal Analyst, Pund-IT.

“In fact, both ACI and Hyper-V were created by vendors deeply concerned about the effects of VMware on their core markets, which says something about the level of disruptive innovation VMware is delivering. It’s also interesting to note that (according to a Business Insider report) the Cisco Nexus 9508 switch that enables ACI contains two chips — a “standard” version that can be used in conjunction with other SDN products and a custom chip that delivers superior performance but only works with Cisco’s solution. So Cisco’s basic though unstated message is: Yes, we support SDN of every sort but if you want really optimal performance, you have to lock yourself into our proprietary SDN framework.”

Much of Cisco’s ACI, and the ecosystem support, remain somewhere in the future, so how all this will work out is anybody’s guess. However, given Cisco’s domination of the networking world, its growing influence in the data center (VCE), and its partnerships with the IT industry’s biggest players certainly bode well for the eventual realization of that future.