Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.
- Six Million Dollar Man Intro
Last week Cisco announced their official product from the top secret Spin-In Insieme, they have essentially thought to rebuild the network into something better than before. A network that is completely focused on the application. So high level, what was announced ?
1) The new Nexus 9508 switch is available today with an enhanced version of NX-OS , the smaller 9300 switches will come a bit later;
2) Cisco has created its own SDN-like Controller, the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) and it will be released in April 2014
This is truly a game changer in that Cisco is looking to change the conversation about SDN from one of abstracting networking functions from hardware (like Vmware’s NSX Solution) to discussing how hardware, and custom ASICs, are still very important in managing and operating your network. Now customers have two radically different ways of thinking about how they want to evolve their network. The gauntlet is tossed. Over the next couple of months we here at Providing Cloudy Service will do several deep dives into the technology and compare it to Vmware’s vision, NSX. But initially we have a few predictions of where this could all go by this time next year, and one prediction that will take years to see play out. Long term readers know that we like to make these projections with various levels of success. So here we go :
Customers now have a choice in their next generation IT infrastructure
The Network Virtualization vs. Application Policy Infrastructure story will keep CIOs up at night. Network Overlays will allow IT departments to create “virtual networks” on top of a common hardware infrastructure. So you can have multiple “networks” that are unaware of the underlying hardware as long as the underlying hardware has enough bandwidth to handle the traffic load. We’ll talk about how this works with tunneling protocols later, but let’s focus on the cost of creating these multiple networks. We can tell it wont be cheap. Right now VMware has been mum on the price, but for those who use Vmware to virtualize their servers, the pricing on a per VM basis can scale fairly rapidly, especially for large organizations. If the same per VM pricing is applied to virtualized networks, networks which will need multiple network VMs to work, the price can increase exponentially. Creating virtualized networks whenever you want doesn’t seem as appealing after you get the bill. The pricing on the APIC controller is unknown, but because it is required to configure the Nexus 9000 there may not be a fee. But your CAPEX spending may increase to purchase the new hardware. Technology wise Cisco is offering a new way to think about designing your network. Instead of having multiple overlays for each type of application, APIC will allow IT staff to proactively design their network infrastructure for any type of infrastructure. For example you can run Hadoop for a Big Data Application on a non-blocking architecture with access to bare metal servers on the same infrastructure where you would run your virtual server farms who need access to layer 4 – 7 virtual network services like load balancers and firewalls. A huge difference in how IT departments should think about their next generation networks. We predict that more cutting-edge, application-centric companies will try Vmware’s NSX solution because it gives developers more control over the network, but developers should be prepared to either learn to work better with the infrastructure team (network, servers, and storage) or learn networking skills. More traditional IT departments will like APIC as it creates an environment where the infrastructure teams and developers can all collaborate on how best to design the network. But companies will need to prepare to buy more hardware. The choice, as always, is in your hands.
A Company’s history can decide its future
Cisco has had a long success with combining multiple technologies into their hardware. Their first router was built to handle multiple routing protocols. When the industry began to think about combining voice and data on the same network, Cisco was at the forefront with the creation of the Call Manager, a software based PBX. Next with the emergence of innovative Data Center technologies, Cisco looked to combine ethernet and fiber channel with their leadership in developing the Fiber over Ethernet (FCoE) standard. And most recently, the building of the Unified Computing Server which combined the management of networking, storage, and servers into one box for ease of management in the data center. In addition, Cisco has always sought to work with resellers, and ecosystem partners to create the best solution for their customers. It hasn’t always been perfect , ie in voice where Microsoft Lync and Cisco HCS are going head to head, but over 25 years Cisco has tried to do what’s best for the customer using partners who are now responsible for 80% of Cisco revenues. With the ACI announcement, we believe this will continue. During the ACI announcement partners and competitors were on stage showing that Cisco truly wants a viable ecosystem for this new solution. In addition, Cisco deciding ACI will work with existing SDN controllers sounds promising.
In comparison, Vmware was the first to virtualize x86 servers, a truly revolutionary technology. In fact when the technology was first introduced we can remember using it within lab environments to test security protocols because it was much easier to mess up 20 Virtual Machines to simulate an network attack then use actual servers. In 2003 EMC, a storage company, purchased the company and let it run as subsidiary. In 2007 EMC released 15% of the company out for an IPO which curiously enough, Cisco now owns 5% of the company. Because EMC still owns the majority of shares, VMware tends to act like their parent company, a very professional B2B Sales Force that rivals Cisco, with some channel conflict. But VMware has learned the lessons of Cisco and has developed a very strong Partner Ecosystem with their vExpert campaign, videos and social media outreach, and certification programs. Currently 85% of their sales comes through 3rd party partners. Recently, Vmware has once again created something revolutionary with their purchase of Nicara, the ability virtualize networks. With their announcement of NSX customers see the potential of virtualizing networks. But we fear that customers will do to NSX what we did with the Vmware hypervisor when it was first announced, use it only in the lab. NSK will be used slowly at first but can they gain mindshare with IT buyers in time before APIC is released ? We predict it will be a tough sell for Vmware and they will have to make stronger alliances to even make a dent in Cisco’s hold within IT.
Short term ACI vs. NSX.. Long term ACI + NSX
Economic Game Theory states that the best interest of a firm is to create a strategy that will maximize profits. If new information is learned about the strategy of the firm’s competitors and the firm doesn’t make changes to to their strategy then something called a nash equilibrium is reached. In other words, it is in the best interest of the firm to NOT corporate with competitors. And sometimes this can create a “prisoners dilemma” where the best interest of each firm actually hurts what’s best for the industry. The history of IT vendors has shown us time and time again, they will change their strategy to increase the overall industry marketshare. Mergers, partnerships, integrations, etc happen all the time. In our opinion, this predicts that eventually Application Centric Infrastructure and Network Overlays will work together. Already Cisco has announced open standards on Nexus 9000. Heck they will even work with other SDN controllers using merchant silicone in their hardware. Vmware is already talking about how NSX can work well with Cisco Hardware. And let’s not forget about VCE, the joint company run by Cisco and Vmware to create vBlocks – converged infrastructure Data Center blocks that allow for the quick buildout of private and public clouds. How will this work ? Maybe the underlying ACI network will be needed to understand when to operate in non-blocking mode for your bare-metal Big Data applications. At the same time a NSX virtualized network will be needed to quickly test a new application before adding it into hardware. The options are endless.
It is truly an exciting time work in IT with Cloud, Big Data, SDN and now Hardware Defined Networking gaining tremendous traction. In essence these technologies seek to make IT a better, faster, stronger resource for the business.