As solution providers see it, Cisco isn't late to the software-defined networking (SDN) game -- it's changing it.
"They are changing the market completely," said Steven Reese, Chief Technology Officer at SIGMAnet, an Ontario, Calif.-based Cisco Gold partner, of Cisco's Insieme Networks launch Wednesday. "They are tackling [SDN] from a whole different direction that I think will lead to a lot of these startups and a lot of the bigger players scrambling to realign their strategy to look more like what Cisco is doing."
Cisco's long-awaited SDN strategy finally came to light Wednesday in New York City, when the networking giant formally unveiled its SDN-focused "spin-in" Insieme Networks, its new application-centric infrastructure (ACI), and a new line of Nexus switches to support it.
The Insieme unveiling came as buzz around the SDN market -- projected by industry analyst IDC to reach $3.7 billion by 2016 -- reaches an all-time high. A flood of new SDN-focused products hit the networking market this year, emerging from startups like Big Switch Networks and from networking and virtualization incumbents including Hewlett-Packard and VMware.
But Cisco says, with Insieme, it has something different.
"Our application-centric infrastructure provides programmability and functions into the data center and cloud with properties of SDN and the things that are already popular in the market place," Frank D'Agostino, senior director, Technical Marketing and Solutions Engineering at Insieme Networks, told CRN. "Except we go well beyond that. Those are just basic properties of the network now."
According to Cisco, ACI takes the core concepts of SDN technologies -- i.e. making networks more programmable, automated and easier to manage -- and evolves them a step further.
Cisco has specifically positioned ACI as the next evolution beyond SDN or network virtualization overlays, a common type of SDN deployment that involves running a separate, software-based layer on top of existing network infrastructures. Cisco rivals ranging from Big Switch to VMware, which rolled out its network virtualization platform NSX in August, have popularized this overlay concept.
Cisco argues that this overlay or "software-only" approach to network virtualization falls short in a number of ways.
"What we are seeing from our customers that have been early adopters of these first-generation SDN solutions is that they have issues with scale, and they have issues with visibility because the overlay is not coordinated with the underlay," D'Agostino told CRN. "In this [overlay] environment, what they are doing is inserting a second network between the application and the physical network, and it's increasing complexity and the reliability is going down. Quite honestly, it's a disjointed operation."
NEXT: A Closer Look At ACI