Cisco enables a mini (mini) cloud at the branch

Cisco introduced Digital Network Architecture (DNA) last year as a new architecture for the digitialized agile world that is becoming a reality at a very fast pace. The DNA is built upon design principles such as security everywhere, automation (enabling centralized service management), virtualize everything, analytics and openness. Key to these design principles is that software is not only defining the datacenter (SDN), the WAN (SD-WAN) anymore but also the access layer. So it should be possible to deploy any service anywhere in your network, whether it’s in your Datacenter, the cloud or at the branch. Today, at CiscoLive Berlin, Cisco introduces a solution for solving challenges to provide services at the branch office with the ENCS 5400 platform. ENCS is the acronym for Enterprise Network Compute System. It basically is a smartly designed combination of networking and compute into a single device with the form factor of existing branch routers. This single device can then provide network functions like switching, security, routing and server functions into a single box.

ENCS 5400

The ENCS5400 can strategically be placed between the ISR4k routers where networking is fixed in hardware and the UCS C-Series where every network function is virtualized.

Image courtesy of Cisco

The ENCS5400 comes sufficient memory, 8 built-in LAN ports for switching, PoE optional, 2 Dual-purpose routed ports and a NIM for expansion. On the computer side the ENCS is equipped with 6, 8 or 12-Core intel Xeon-D CPU’s to provide different services.

Image courtesy of Cisco

Virtualized networking

What really drives this solution is that every function is virtualized as opposed to other solutions where services run on top of the router or the switch. So not only “additional services” such as WAAS or a WLC is running virtual but also the router or switch functions are running virtual as well. So there’s an optimized hypervisor layer (KVM based) that connects the physical hardware to the services that you enable on top of the box. And that is exactly what makes this solution unique and flexible. For a small branch office there’s no need anymore for a router and a firewall, just run the firewall (ASAv or NGFWv) as a service, or run the ISR feature set virtually if you need IWAN connectivity instead. And as the different services run on on the optimized hypervisor, it is capable of service chaining the different functions in a hardware optimized way to optimize the performance.

Image courtesy of Cisco

And the best thing is yet to come, the API and environment is Open! That means that not only Cisco Services are able to run on it, but also your regular Windows or Linxu servers, or even other vendor appliances, such as a firewall or WAN optimization, etc. Of course the third-party modules need to be certified as well and I’ve heard talks are on the way for that as you read this blog.

Mini cloud

In my opinion, the ENCS 5400 is basically a very mini cloud at the branch office where the larger brother in the datacenter consists of compute, storage and networking resources are brought down to a fixed hardware box where the advantages of hardware (like asics for performance) are still to be matched with the everchanging demands using completely virtualized services. And since the platform is open for other vendors to support, with Microsoft and Linux already onboard, the possibilities are quite big, just think about the following flexible solutions that you could deploy with this combination of networking and compute:

  • A soho environment with Nextgeneratin Firewall, a WLC for the local radio management and a small monitoring agent that continually measues in a smart way the performance of the applications on the network
  • A ISR service , a domain controller and an ISE PSN for the security inside the branch office
  • An ISR serivce (IWAN connectivity), ASAv for local breakout, local fileserver
  • An NextGen Firewall, local switching and a server with USB storage as backup for all files that are in stored the cloud as backup
  • etc..

I can’t wait to see which vendors will announce their support for this open platform and provide additional services that can be built on top of a fully virtualized platform with the hardware asics to support the performance.

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