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It was clear Cisco had big plans for software-defined networking when it poured $100 million into its SDN-focused "spin-in" Insieme Networks last year.
Since then, however, details of those plans, and what exactly would emerge from Insieme, have been light. That all changed Wednesday when Insieme, along with its vision for the future of data center networks, stepped into the spotlight at the Cisco Live event, taking place this week in Orlando, Fla.
Though Insieme didn't share any concrete product details, it did unveil what it calls a new "application-centric infrastructure," or a next-generation architecture for data center networks, aimed at making those networks more programmable, automated and equipped to handle the new wave of business applications that are emerging from trends like big data and the Internet of Things.
Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of Insieme, described the new architecture as the next evolution beyond the "first generation" of software-defined networks, or those that run a separate, software-based overlay on top of existing network infrastructures.
The overlay concept has become a popular one for SDN deployments, and it is supported today by companies including Big Switch Networks and Nicira, the SDN start-up VMware acquired last year.
But, according to Jiandani, these overlays ultimately just add another layer of complexity to the network, requiring network administrators to manage them separately and in addition to the existing infrastructures that lie beneath. These overlays also make it difficult to achieve optimal scalability and end-to-end visibility across a network, Jiandani said.
"What I'm trying to convey to you all, ladies and gentlemen, is that making networks simple is difficult," Jiandani said at a press conference Wednesday.
Insieme believes the way to eliminate these complexities is through its new "application-centric" architecture, which it said delivers a common, open platform for managing physical, virtual and cloud infrastructures.
Insieme also said its architecture was built upon a "systems" approach -- versus a box-by-box or traditional overlay approach -- that allows for a common policy management framework to be leveraged across network, security and application teams. Down the line, Insieme said this framework would be extensible to compute and storage, as well.
Another key piece of Insieme's vision is leveraging open APIs along with a mix of both custom Cisco and merchant silicon. Jiandani emphasized that Insieme will not be held back by the "limitations" of merchant silicon, and it will use a mix of Cisco's own custom silicon and ASICs when building out its architecture.
Insieme said a product portfolio supporting this architecture would be rolled out before the end of the year. It also confirmed that Cisco now has an 85 percent ownership stake in the company.
Kent MacDonald, vice president of Converged Infrastructure at solution provider and Cisco Gold Partner Long View Systems, said Cisco's investments in Insieme serve as a validation of SDN, in general, and that this is, in fact, the direction in which the networking industry will move.
"I think a lot of the market was waiting to see what Cisco was going to do, and how serious they were going to take [SDN]," MacDonald said. "So I think just by the comprehensiveness of their statement that they will be and are a player in this market ... it's all very reassuring that this is where people need to invest and this is where we will see the market move to."