Cisco to Open Source OpFlex Protocol in Bid to Simplify IT Management

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Cisco may be a multi-billion entity that was built around a proprietary operating system, but if recent moves are any indication, a wave of open interoperability has been steadily reshaping how Cisco is bringing next-generation IT infrastructure to market.

After previously unveiling an Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) architecture based on RESTful application programming interfaces that makes Cisco infrastructure simpler to manage and more accessible to developers, Cisco today at the Interop 2014 conference today unveiled OpFlex, a new protocol that makes it easier to use a declarative programming language to apply policies across IT infrastructure from multiple vendors.

Co-authored by Microsoft, Citrix, IBM and Sungard Availability Services, Mike Cohen, director of product management at Cisco, says OpFlex is needed to enable IT organizations to apply policies in a much simpler way at a time when there are more interdependencies between systems than ever. Cohen says OpFlex will enable hypervisors, switches and Layer 4 through 7 network services to be automatically configured based on the policies attached to any application policy. Other vendors supporting OpFlex include Canonical, Red Hat, Avi Networks, Embrane and F5 Networks. While OpFlex currently supports the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), Cohen says it’s only a matter of time before OpFlex is extended to include Cisco servers and third-party storage systems.

Cohen says OpFlex is compatible with the emerging OpenStack cloud management framework and that as a piece of open source software, Cisco plans to propose that OpFlex become an IETF standard. In addition, Cisco says it is working with the Project OpenDaylight software-defined networking controller initiative to create an open source, ACI-compatible policy model and OpFlex reference architecture.

There are those, of course, who would contend that promoting interoperability is not quite the same thing as embracing a completely open architecture. But from the perspective of the average IT organization, the fact that OpFlex already has a significant amount of industry support means that the divide between managing applications and IT operations is about to finally get a whole lot narrower.