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Software-defined networking is a 'limiting vision', says Cisco CTO

Networks need programmatic interfaces and orchestration

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Software-defined networking (SDN) may be the buzzword of the moment within the enterprise networking industry, but it is a “limiting vision” according to Padmasree Warrior, chief strategy and technology office at Cisco.

Speaking at the Cisco Tech Editor's Conference in San Jose, Warrior said that SDN only addresses the separation of the control plane and the data plane, but Cisco's vision is much broader, encompassing the need for networks to be programmable and orchestrated.

“We see the network as a platform where applications can be programmed, where information can be processed and where data and business processes can be much more efficient,” she said.

Warrior explained that the world is moving from a web-based economy to an app-based economy, so the network has to enable applications to be more efficient. This can be achieved by exposing the infrastructure through programmatic interfaces that allow applications to be written directly to the network.

“That's a big shift in thinking – the network used to be a closed environment and we're making it much more open,” she said. 

In particular, the rise of video and the 'Internet of Everything' is driving this shift, forcing the network to prioritise some types of information over others. The network itself therefore has to become more automated and dynamic, and the applications need to become more network-aware.

“Everything cannot go back to the data centre, it needs to have a distributed architecture for both compute and network,” said Warrior.

“It needs to be agile in the sense that it needs to have the functionality to say what traffic do I send back to the data centre and how much do I enable to happen at the branch or access point?” 

Dave Ward, CTO of Engineering and Chief Architect at Cisco, added that what is really missing from the industry is an application ecosystem around networking, and that is what programmatic interfaces and orchestration are going to enable the company to build.

“Routers, switches, broadband gateways, cable gateways, mobile gateways, security gateways – all of these different pieces hold so much information that we're not able to take advantage today in an application ecosystem,” said Ward. 

“SDN is really about a full bi-directional extraction of information and programming of new features into the network.”

Cisco has built consistent programming interfaces across all of its operating systems, so that new protocols are immediately available across the entire portfolio. This means that operators can dynamically add more resources, and tune every aspect of their networks to deliver services.

The company hopes to attract developer communities within its customers' IT departments to create applications that solve the real problems of managing and orchestrating their networks, such as organising a wiring closet or setting up a point of sale system. 

“Programmatic interfaces and this orchestration layer enable network operators to move as fast as system administrators and get this information that's in the network into the hands of app developers, who are trying to solve these real problems,” said Ward.


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Stu Bailey said: Software has practically unlimited potential when coupled with generally-available inexpensive programmable hardware Take for example the amazing things that we have been able to do with software on commoditised hardware like servers PCs and tablets eg the Web cloud etc I agree wholeheartedly with Cisco that we are missing a software ecosystem for networking But the power of the ecosystem will only be set free if we fix what is missing from the current networking industry generally-available inexpensive programmable hardware To realise the true potential of SDN we need to put software at the centre of value

Tommy Rydendahl said: By adding Network applications and programmatic interfaces We make the customer more reliant on 1 single vendor of the Network instead by moving application to std servers and using an open std Network architecture everyone can choose how to connect their servers and storage and spend the enrgy on the management as a holistic solution not neccesarily bound to the Network

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