Cisco to let customers run competitors’ software on its flagship switches

Cisco to let customers run competitors’ software on its flagship switches

Cisco Nexus 9000Cisco Systems Inc. is adding support for a key software-defined networking standard to its flagship backbone switches as part of an effort to provide customers with more freedom in how they run their environments. The update underscores the broader shift to open standards, a trend that is slowly forcing incumbent vendors to change their proprietary ways.

The Nexus 9000 Series (above right) is set to receive an update later this month that will add compatibility with BGP EVPN (Border Gateway Protocol – Ethernet Virtual Private Network), a specification that Cisco developed in collaboration with several other big-name vendors and carriers to accelerate the shift toward programmatic management. It establishes a set of common rules for virtual connectivity over Ethernet, which was created in the era of physical workloads and which can prove unwieldy for modern virtualized applications as a result.

The standard does away with much of that complexity, providing the groundwork for Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN), another protocol that Cisco helped create with the ability to tunnel traffic from virtual machines down to the physical network. That provides a number of major advantages over conventional approaches, most notably the ability to support much bigger environments.

And because the data travels in a raw form rather than through the abstraction that links instances running under a hypervisor, VXLAN also has the added benefit of making  communications between virtual and non-virtual applications fairly straightforward. Since many mission-critical workloads such as firewalls and databases fall into the latter category, that’s a key requirement in the enterprise, especially as the network becomes increasingly distributed with the growing adoption of cloud services.

Once the update hits, Nexus 9000 switches will have the ability to run virtual controllers that use the standard BGP EVPN, providing customers with options other than Cisco’s own ACI controller, called APIC, which uses a different open standard called OpFlex.
It also opens the door to deploying the appliances in OpenStack environments, although the company will naturally continue pushing its architecture as the best option.

Support for BGP EVPN is also set to arrive to the Nexus 7000 series and ASR 9000 routers sometime in the second quarter, extending the trend of big-name vendors relenting control over their ecosystems to provide more freedom of choice. Cisco arch-rival Juniper Systems Inc. has also adopted that approach with a new commodity switch that offers support for a wide variety of third party software platforms.