Year in review: Cisco ACI, faster switches pace networking

Cisco's ACI, faster Wi-Fi and WAN optimization technologies were some of the top technology stories of the year.

Gargantuan switches, full-volume shipping of eagerly anticipated silicon and a glimpse into Cisco's SDN-flavored Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) initiative were three of the dozens of major developments that shaped the networking industry in the past 12 months. These developments, in concert with faster Wi-Fi and accelerated WAN technologies, reflected an industry on the cusp of even greater transformation, as vendors laid the groundwork for new definitions of networking that will be revealed in the months and years to come. Below, a glimpse at some of the events and developments SearchNetworking covered in the past 12 months.

Click the links to check out the top stories from a particular month:

January
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March
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August
September
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November
December

January

Cisco announced the expansion of its virtual desktop computing and collaboration architecture with Virtual Experience

Media Engine -- VXME. A major benefit of VXME is that it processes data locally, thus helping users avoid hairpinning communications -- sending messages through a data center before reaching their destination. This eliminates the middleman and allows for more direct communication flow.

Just how open can OpenFlow research be now that vendors are using educational institutions as proxy product development and testing centers? January's Techs in Paradise conference in Honolulu examined the challenge research and education institutions face as they develop the open source OpenFlow protocol. On one hand, engineers need an open and collaborative environment; on the other, once an institution partners with a vendor, it is usually asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which limits how much research it can share.

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February

Cisco rolled out a new application-specific integrated circuit. The chip, called the Unified Access Data Plane (UADP), is most beneficial to Cisco's product development teams who will no longer have to build new hardware to add new features to products, analysts said. Combined with Cisco's new modular IOS-XE IOS software -- which allows switching, routing, security and wireless control to run as partitioned services on top of a broader operating system -- UADP opens up new possibilities for Cisco to develop future products quickly and efficiently.

Hewlett-Packard Co. launched a device to integrate wireless LAN controller functionality into its switching products. The device, the 10500/7500 20G Unified Wired-WLAN Module, is a wireless controller blade for HP's modular 10500 and 7500 switches. HP also introduced a new User Access Manager and Smart Connect module for its Intelligent Management Center, which simplifies the deployment and management of policy-based bring your own device access.

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March

Juniper Networks Inc. announced plans to launch a new line of high-capacity switches based on its MX series of carrier-class routers. It said it would continue to sell the EX8200, but would no longer invest in its hardware platform. The rollout of the EX9200 reflected a general understanding among many networking vendors that they had been neglecting campus switching while focusing on the data center.

Cisco adjusted the requirements of its entry-level Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam to make it easier for IT professionals to develop their careers. Requirements for the CCNA Voice, CCNA Security and CCNA Wireless accreditation were streamlined so that test-takers only have to pass two exams instead of three. The idea was to make it easier for employers to find specialists, as well as help professionals define their career paths.

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April

Hewlett-Packard launched the HP FlexFabric 12900 series. The series, a line of data center switches, routers and virtual switches, greatly expands HP's data center core switch family. The premium 12916 chassis, with a maximum of 36 Tbps, and a nonblocking fabric with a top of 768 by 10 Gigabit Ethernetor 256 by 40 GbE ports, has industry-leading capacity. It also launched the FlexFabric 11908 data center switch for the aggregation tier of large networks, and the HSR 6800 router series, which HP described as a carrier-class router for data center WAN edge connections.

After a year in development, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. began shipping HyperEdge, a management platform that gives administrators a single point of oversight over all HyperEdge-compatible switches in a network. With a single management IP address for all switches, administrators use a single pane of glass for configuring and managing a network.

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May

Facebook announced plans to expand its Open Compute Project to include a top-of-rack data center switch. The aim of the project's latest update is to design switches that can run any network operating system and give data center operators the ability to decouple hardware and software in their networks.

Motorola Solutions Inc. introduced its 802.11ac access point series -- the AP 8232, AP 8222 and AP 8263 -- for both indoor and outdoor deployments. The three new access points, shipped with a fortified version of Motorola's LAN software, WiNG 5.5, can be managed from a single dashboard for IT via Motorola's NX 9500 controller.

Array Networks Inc. rolled out four application delivery controllers: the mid-level APV 2600 and 5600, as well as the higher-end 10600 and 10650 models. Each appliance supports 10 GbE interfaces, multicore processing and 2048-bit SSL acceleration.

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June

Cisco used Cisco Live to introduce data center network features that automate and optimize massive spine-leaf architectures, as well as a core switch that dwarfs its competition in scale and performance. Cisco also unveiled a refresh of its campus switching and enterprise routing products, highlighted by the Catalyst 6800 series, a big brother to the Catalyst 6500 that is compatible with the older switch's existing supervisor modules and line cards.

Startup Cumulus Networks Inc. came out with a Linux-based network operating system that complements Facebook's Open Compute switch project. The OS is engineered to run on bare-metal switches and is tailored to provide some of the programmability of software-defined networks (SDN) without requiring the use of a controller. Cumulus also disclosed a list of vendors and partners with whom it will work to develop switches and other devices with the firm's OS already built in.

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July

In an effort to more efficiently manage development and optimize performance of its top-of-rack and EX switches, Juniper Networks integrated its switching, routing and wireless LAN technologies under a single business unit, the Platform Systems Division. Juniper Executive Vice President Rami Rahim explained that Juniper was investing heavily in its broad switching portfolio and increasing simplicity to reduce the cost of running the network.

Cisco spent $2.7 billion to acquire network security specialist Sourcefire in an effort to strengthen its security business. Sourcefire's open source intrusion prevention technology, Snort, is one piece of the prize. The other: Sourcefire's Vulnerability Research Team. Analysts said engineers who specialize in writing signatures used in intrusion and malware protection are hard to come by.

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August

Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard both announced new top-of-rack data center switches with high-density 40 Gigabit Ethernet ports at VMworld. The switches represent the ongoing advancement of top-of-rack switches with throughput and port density to handle servers with 10 GbE interfaces.

The notion of application-defined networking (ADN) gained traction as vendors tried new approaches. Some vendors, such as Brocade, Citrix Systems Inc. and F5 Networks Inc., extended the load-balancing capabilities of their products. Others, such as Cisco, will rely on the Cisco ACI initiative that enables applications to run in any environment, cloud or traditional data center, virtually or on bare metal. Lyatiss Inc. , a recent startup, is developing software-only ADN platforms.

Mobile malware attacks grew more than 600% in one year, according to research released by Juniper Networks. The vendor, in its third annual "Mobile Threats Report," said that out of 276,000 malicious apps counted in the study, 92% were aimed at Android users. The increase in Android malware was a result of Google taking a bigger share of the worldwide smartphone market.

Despite a good 2013 fiscal quarter, Cisco announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs, or 5% of its global workforce. Corporate execs said the move was taken to allow it to be more nimble as it placed resources into growing business units. But some observers said the layoffs reflected other changes sweeping through the networking industry.

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September

Brocade added native multi-tenancy to its Virtual Cluster Switching Ethernet fabric, allowing network engineers to dramatically increase the number of network segments that can be created in a Layer 2 network.

With the launch of NSX, VMware Inc. clarified how it intended to pursue the network virtualization market. But NSX, a platform that combines the company's virtual networking technologies with overlay technologies from Nicira, opened a debate between system administrators and networking pros, kindling a potential conflict in the data center.

Hewlett-Packard entered the next-generation firewall market with a new line of TippingPoint firewalls. The new line extends the appliances' existing intrusion prevention systems with traditional packet filtering and application control. Businesses interested in intrusion prevention are the main beneficiaries.

Extreme Networks Inc. bought Enterasys Networks for $180 million. The partnership brought together Extreme's expertise in data center networking with Enterasys' experience in campus networking and wireless LANs.

Network security, Wi-Fi and data center network architecture upgrades were the primary goals for enterprises and organizations for 2014. According to TechTarget's 2013 networking purchasing intentions survey, a third of respondents said security was their main concern, while wireless and data center upgrades were cited as priorities by 27% and 25% of respondents, respectively. The survey included responses from more than 2,700 key networking and IT executives and professionals worldwide.

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October

Juniper Networks announced MetaFabric -- a new architecture that ties together switching, routing and software into a comprehensive approach for data center and cloud networking. The new architecture addressed hybrid environments -- allowing interconnections between data centers themselves, as well as between data centers and the cloud, analysts said.

After some delay, Broadcom Corp. began shipping full production volumes of its StrataXGS Trident II network chip to switch manufacturers. Switch makers are using the silicon to anchor high-density data center switches with a range of features, including support for Virtual Extensible LAN, the tunneling platform that will enable vendors to integrate with network virtualization platforms such as VMware NSX.

Arista Networks Inc. shipped its first line of top-of-rack switches based on Trident II. The 7050X switch, with 2.56 Tbps of capacity, can process 1.44 billion packets per second and is geared to high-performance data centers with high-frequency trading environments and supercomputing environments.

Aruba Networks combined its cloud management platform -- Aruba Central -- with a series of instant access points to deliver a cloud-managed Wi-Fi offering for distributed enterprises and smaller branch office locations. Aruba also expanded its switching portfolio with the new Aruba S1500 Mobility Access Switch for cloud Wi-Fi environments.

Cisco beefed up its line of merchant silicon-based, top-of-rack data center switches with its new Nexus 3100 series. The switch is a low-latency, high-density Layer 2 and Layer 3 device, aimed at enterprises that require top-of-rack switches that can be deployed in a spine-leaf architecture using conventional Layer 3 protocols.

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November

Cisco's launch of new data center switches as part of its SDN-flavored ACI had some customers concerned about the future of their existing investments in Cisco's data center switches. The new switches, the Nexus 9000 series, run on the ACI framework, but other switches, including the 7000 and 7700 core devices, will not.

Extreme Networks released its top-of-rack data center switch. The Summit X770 is engineered to ease the migration to 10 GbE and 40 GbE and is also targeted at companies with intensive big data analytics projects.

F5 Networks announced Synthesis, an application delivery structure that encourages data center operators to buy and operate application delivery controllers as fabric rather than as sets of appliances for specific applications.

Arista Networks released its 7000x Series of high-density switches enabling the concept of a single-tier "Spline" network. In Spline architecture, the switches are intended to automate provisioning, simplify cabling, reduce latency and cut network costs, trimming operating expenditures by as much as 40%.

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December

Riverbed Technology Inc. integrated its Cascade performance management software into its Steelhead WAN optimization product line to combine deep application visibility and network control from anywhere on the network. The integration is engineered to give network administrators the ability to centrally manage applications across private WAN links and public Internet connections from any point on the WAN.

Silver Peak Systems Inc. added capabilities to its WAN optimization software that permits companies with hybrid WAN networks to use the best and most reliable routes to transmit their data. The new feature, Dynamic Path Control, automatically determines whether broadband Internet or Multiprotocol Label Switching is the best route, gauging metrics that include latency, packet loss and available bandwidth.

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