Application-centric networking? More like Cisco-centric networking

Cisco's software-defined networking solution seems to answer one question: How to sell more Cisco products to enterprises

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It's unclear if this requires reworking existing apps to be fully functional. If "the network is to be application aware" instead of vice versa, as Insieme's senior director of technical marketing and solutions engineering Frank D'Agostino claimed, we need to see sooner rather than later how it works. Unfortunately, as Dan O'Shea of Light Reading notes, "Those wanting definitive answers may have to wait a little longer, as some aspects of the ACI portfolio will not be available until well into 2014."

Physical and virtual networking need each other

Cisco isn't alone in proposing an approach to fill in the gaps left by SDN. Another possible angle comes courtesy of network hardware outfit Plexxi, which also sees physical and virtual networking as being complementary and not exclusionary.

Mat Matthews, Plexxi's co-founder and VP of product management, uses the term "affinity networking" to describe what it's doing instead of "application-based networking." Plexxi, too, supplies a hardware switch that's driven by a software controller. But instead of using policies to determine the network, its system can also harvest information about what applications may be running by way of common automation tools (such as Puppet) and configure itself accordingly.

"We like Cisco's approach," Matthews said. "It's good that one of the major [network hardware] incumbents has said that we need to do more with what applications need." To him, this is far more complex than "programming a flow table from a switch based on an API," and the OpenFlow approach, while interesting, "is not what we find the most interesting part of SDN. How the controller talks to the network is for us the last part of the equation." Cisco is right, he attests, in the "need to create networking in both physical and virtual worlds."

True enough. And if Cisco's approach revolves more around protecting its 60 percent-plus market share as a network hardware vendor and striking pre-emptively at its competitors -- and less about solving the very real problems that SDN is only beginning to address -- Cisco's going to find out the hard way it's not the only one that can radically rethink SDN.

This article, "Application-centric networking? More like Cisco-centric networking," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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