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Cisco makes programmable routers more open

Cisco has added support for open source tools Chef and Puppet in the IOS XR operating system for its NCS programmable routers.

Cisco has added a software development kit (SDK), and open source management and automation tools to the routers service providers use to power customers' WANs.

The latest tools are included in an upgrade of Cisco's IOS-XR network operating system, which runs the company's highly programmable routers, the Network Convergence Systems (NCS) Series. As part of this week's announcement, Cisco also added hardware to the NCS portfolio.

The improvements in router programmability include tighter integration with open source DevOps tools Chef and Puppet. Chef provides a framework for system management and cloud infrastructure automation, while Puppet is for centralizing and automating configuration management.

"By supporting Chef and Puppet, they are making some moves to become more open," said John Fruehe, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, based in Austin, Texas. "This is part of a more focused Cisco strategy -- an acknowledgement that if they aren't engaged with the tools that service providers are using, then the reasons to select Cisco start to drop."

The latest version of IOS XR includes an SDK for building third-party applications that run on top of the operating system. The SDK is in line with Cisco's effort, called DevNet, to get network engineers and developers to build software together.

"The SDK is also an important piece, as it opens up the ecosystem a bit for people to develop applications," Fruehe said.


The IOS XR upgrade also contains APIs that support YANG, a data modeling language for the NETCONF configuration management protocol. Network administrators use YANG and NETCONF tools to automate configuration tasks across a variety of devices.

For real-time WAN programming, Cisco has added to the WAN Automation Engine (WAE) in IOS XR support for segment routing, which enables fast retransmit and recovery protection for IP and MPLS networks. In general, WAE lets service providers configure and manage customer networks through features that include global load balancing, bandwidth-on-demand and premium services.

WAE is part of IOS XR's Cisco Application Engineered Routing technology, which provides full control over how network infrastructure supports applications. The software for Cisco's programmable routers also helps service providers reduce operations through better control over latency, bandwidth and availability.

All of the above technology sits on top of the NCS routers. The latest additions to the portfolio include the 5000, 5500 and 1000 series. The 5000 series provides up to four routed 100 GbE ports for MPLS routing in aggregated metropolitan area networks. The 5500 series provides up to 288 routed 100 GbE ports for WAN aggregation, and the 1000 model supports 100/200/250 Gb wavelengths for existing fiber with distances that exceed 3,000 kilometers.

The router's 100 GbE interfaces are what service providers need for a data center interconnect, said Nav Chander, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. "These solutions combine routing, optical switching and a lot of WAN automation software."

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