This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Since the WAN and access edge are the typical bottlenecks that hamper performance of applications like video, SDN outside the data center might actually provide faster ROI.

Cisco Live! kicks off this week under the sunny skies of Orlando, FL with a record 20,000 in attendance. For networking professionals, this show is about as exciting as it comes. It’s like being a Chicago Black Hawks fan and seeing your team score two goals in 17 seconds to win a second Stanley Cup in four years. Well, maybe not quite that exciting, but it’s certainly a place to come learn what’s new in the world of Cisco.

Networking has been as hot as Hawks forward Patrick Kane over the past year, as every vendor is looking to take advantage of trends like Software Defined Networks (SDN) and virtual networking. Almost every networking vendor has retooled its data center portfolio to try and one-up the other guy.

The data center may be a critical part of the network, but it’s certainly not the only part of the network. What about the branch office, the wide area network or the access network? Sure, WiFi has been hot in these areas, but outside of the data center, wired networking has been about as exciting as a Bruins post-game-six party.

Well, Cisco bucked the trend at day one of Live! and launched a number of new products to expand the scope of Cisco’s Open Networking Environment (ONE). For those not familiar with ONE, it’s the company’s architecture to make the network more programmable, application-aware and services-rich.

In conjunction with the new products, Cisco announced the “Cisco ONE Enterprise Network Architecture”, which is a way of delivering the programmable, application awareness and services to the broader network instead of just in the data center. The ONE Enterprise is built on three layers–a network infrastructure layer, a control layer and the network application layer.

The network infrastructure layer is composed of Cisco’s broad portfolio of routers, switches, wireless, branch and other technology. However, Cisco provides a number of APIs into these products including OpenFlow and onePK. This layer is also where services such as location services, Cisco’s AVC (application visibility and control) and Medianet are provisioned. Cisco also supports an API for its command line, meaning customers don’t have to upgrade all the technology at once and can use a mix of older technology and the newer products.

The control layer follows the centralized control model of an SDN. It allows network services to be turned up across all devices instead of the historical box-by-box method that I, and so many network engineers, thought of as the norm. Think of the control layer as an abstraction layer for higher level services such as QoS and PfR (Cisco Performance Routing).

The network application layer leverages the Cisco APIs to allow third party ISVs, Cisco application developers and corporate developers to build applications that leverage network services. This initiative will require the most work from Cisco, as they need to “prime the pump” to show what’s possible to get the ball rolling.

To support the vision, Cisco announced a bunch of new products including three new Catalyst 6800 switch models, a new supervisor engine for the Cat 4500 switch, the new ISR 4451-AX branch router and the Cisco ASR 1000-AX aggregation services router.

I’m not going to go into the product details, they’re in the press release but I will say these are meaningful new products given the installed base of the older product lines. The branch router (ISR), in particular has been an anchor in customer accounts for years. One can argue the competitive landscape in switching but in routing, the ISR stands alone as the single best-in-class enterprise router, which is why it has north of 90% share in enterprises today.

Cisco has been working to build more and more services into the ISR for years but has had some scale issues due to the number of on-board services. Cisco got around that with daughter cards and additional hardware modules to keep the performance up. This strategy worked OK but did require IT to have to touch the box, causing downtime and adding to the cost of support.

The new ISR 4451-AX is loaded with hardware support, and all the features are now integrated into IOS. Want WAN optimization? Just get a license key and turn it on. The pay-as-you-grow model for branch services is key to scaling the network, as customers can put in what they need today and buy additional services when they need to.

Key to success for the Cisco ONE Enterprise Network strategy is the consistency of the onePK API toolkit across all of its products. According to Cisco, onePK will be supported across the entire routing and switching products within the next 12 months, starting with the products announced at this year’s Cisco Live!

Considering the breadth of Cisco, this was an important product release and architectural announcement to push the concept of SDNs and network agility out of the data center and out to the branch and campus. Given that the WAN and access edge are the typical bottlenecks that hamper the performance of applications like video, SDN deployments outside the data center might actually provide faster return on investment.

Cisco Live! 2013 is well underway and SDNs will be a big theme here. Customers of Cisco should consider the implications of how SDNs can impact the broader network and change the way networks interact with applications and users.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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