As I told Network Computing, Cisco made it clear in its blog posts that these disaggregated solutions were definitely not aimed at the general market. Instead, they were offering these products for a very small set of service providers and webscale data center operators with the internal technical resources needed to deploy and operate these technologies. This position contrasts sharply with some of the startups that champion hardware and software disaggregation in the networking world. Those startups try to make their solutions as turnkey as possible to encourage mainstream adoption.
Cisco’s position makes sense. While the company professes a strategic intent to become more of a software-centric company, its core business is still very much tied to proprietary hardware. When it comes to switching and routing, Cisco usually positions software as a solution that extends the value of its hardware products. It definitely isn’t interested in pushing its customers toward software-hardware disaggregation. Nor should it do so. Very few Cisco customers are intent on disaggregation right now, though many companies probably have curious network engineers who would like to dabble with disaggregation in a lab.
The blogs Cisco published were a little thin on details, so I spoke to some Cisco product management folks to get some information. Here’s what I learned.
IOS-XR Disaggregation (Service Provider Routing)
Cisco is offering service providers the option of running IOS-XR as a disaggregated operating system for white box routers upon request.
Support: Cisco will offer software support for IOS-XR in disaggregated systems, but it will not coordinate hardware support. Cusotmers who disaggregate with this software will have to do some triage on their end to figure out if they are having a hardware or software problem with a router.
Hardware: Cisco will support IOS-XR on a select group of Open Compute Project (OCP)-compliant routers. Cisco has picked one model from Accton, the Taiwanese ODM that many disaggregated network operating system vendors partner with. Cisco will support other OCP-compliant devices as customer demand emerges.
NX-OS/Nexus 9000 Disaggregation (Data Center Switching)
Cisco is letting data center operators consume its NX-OS switch operating system and some of its Nexus 9000 switches as disaggregated technology. In other words, customers can install NX-OS on third-party hardware or install third-party software on Nexus 9000 hardware.
Hardware partnerships for NX-OS: Cisco is partnering with multiple ODMs to certify that NX-OS can run on their hardware and to offer some integrated professional services and customer support. Cisco is not making these partnerships public at this time.
Software partnerships for Nexus 9000s: Cisco is not partnering with any third-party network operating system vendors. Right now, Cisco is only supporting open source operating systems on its Nexus 9000 hardware.
Software Licensing: Cisco is selling NX-OS software under both perpetual and subscription licenses.
NX-OS Support: Cisco TAC will offer front-end support for NX-OS running on third-party hardware. If the support issue is hardware-related, Cisco TAC has done the necessary integration to provide a warm handoff to the hardware vendor’s customer support organization.
Hardware Support: Cisco will offer hardware support for Nexus 9000s that run open source software. It won’t be supporting the software.
Finally, Cisco’s overall engagement with network disaggregation is quite low. It won’t be letting just anyone walk in off the street and acquire this technology. Service providers and webscale companies that have already demonstrated a readiness for software-hardware disaggregation will have ready access to these solutions. However, Cisco says it will evaluate enterprise inquiries on a case-by-case basis to determine if these solutions are right for them.