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Just about every IT service provider at this juncture recognizes that the networks on which those services depend are about to become highly programmable. Looking to accelerate that process Cisco updated its IOS XR network operating system while adding three additional routers to its portfolio.

Rather than asking service providers to build their own programmable networks, Cisco via its IOS XR is committed to delivering those capabilities as a core part of the operating system used to enable the delivery of network services via its network infrastructure offerings, said Greg Smith, head of service provider marketing for Cisco.

“The most expensive software out there is what you get for free,” said Smith. “We think service providers would rather buy these capabilities than built it themselves.”

At the core of this latest Cisco network initiative is a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) for modeling data traveling across the network and a software development kit (SDK) that service providers can use to more easily expose network services to developers and their end customers.

Cisco expects service providers to leverage these tools in two distinct ways, Smith said. They will create self-service portals through which end customers can provision network services in a matter of minutes versus the several weeks it takes today, or developers will build applications that directly invoke those network services through the APIs that Cisco is exposing via both in its operating system and the previously announced software-defined Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) networking architecture.

“We’re trying to insert these technologies into the existing tool chain of service providers,” Smith said. “Previously, service providers didn’t have a lot of real-time insights into the network.”

To help facilitate the deployment of those services at scale, Cisco this week also unveiled the Cisco NCS 5000 Series, which can be configured with up to 40-80 10GE ports and 4 100GE ports, a Cisco NCS 5500 Series that provides up to 288 routed 100GE ports for WAN aggregation, and the Cisco NCS 1000 Series, which provides access to 100/200/250G-bit wavelengths over distances exceeding 3,000km with existing fiber.

In fact, Smith claims that Cisco is the only provider of network infrastructure capable of unifying local and wide area networks at that distance.

Naturally, Cisco is not the only provider of network infrastructure touting the benefits of highly programmable networks. But as the largest vendor of network infrastructure used by providers of IT services, Cisco still has the inside track when it comes to dominating a new generation of programmable networking services in and out of the cloud.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.