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Cisco targets large SDN deployments with Nexus 9000 improvements

Cisco plans to add an industry standard controller to the Nexus 9000 to give customers the option of using the switch for large-scale SDN deployments utilized by carriers and cloud service providers.

Cisco's plan to open up its Nexus 9000 switches to support an industry standard protocol signals a change in how the supplier plans to market its software-defined networking (SDN) portfolio.

By the end of the month, Cisco is scheduled to incorporate the open BGP EVPN (Border Gateway Protocol Ethernet Virtual Private Network) protocol into the Nexus 9000 to support large-scale SDN deployments.

Cisco plans to use BGP as the control plane for its virtual extensible LAN (VXLAN) switches. BGP is used on the Internet for exchanging routing information between gateways that have their own router within a network of autonomous systems.

The same technology will be released in the second quarter in the Nexus 7000 and the ASR 9000 series routers.

VXLAN is an encapsulation protocol used to run an overlay network on existing Layer 3 infrastructure. The technology, originally created by VMware, Arista Networks and Cisco, helps engineers scale out a cloud-computing environment while isolating cloud apps and tenants from the underlying network.

The benefit of VXLAN is its support for a "theoretical maximum of 16 million tenants," which is four times that of a traditional virtual LAN, Craig Huitema, director of data center marketing for Cisco, said in a company blog. However, reaching that level of scalability requires technology like Cisco's BGP EVPN controller, he wrote.

"This is an important addition for Cisco customers mainly at the very high end of scaling -- the carriers, the cloud service providers and the Web-scale content providers," Nemertes Research analyst John Burke said. "It continues to keep Cisco relevant and distinctly useful in environments where VMware is working steadily to make the actual physical switching layer less relevant and the vendor you source from less important, by shifting the intelligence to [VMware's network virtualization technology] NSX."

Cisco's plumbing sits under its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which is built for integrating cloud computing and data center management. In essence, ACI is Cisco's flavor of SDN, which is tied to its hardware. Rivals like VMware take a hardware-neutral approach.

In leveraging BGP EVPN, Cisco has made its switches and routers easier to connect to third-party network overlay controllers, according to the company. In addition, customers can run OpenStack or other standard cloud-management technology on top.

In other Nexus 9000 series news, Cisco has introduced 100 gigabit Ethernet modules for the eight-port Nexus 9500 and the four-port 9300. The modules stem from the rising demand for bandwidth in data centers, Cisco said.

The Nexus 9000 series is Cisco's hardware foundation for large-scale SDN deployments. Since the introduction of the product in 2013, the number of customers has grown to more than 900, according to Cisco.

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