Network Field Day 5: Cisco onePK

Terry Slattery
Principal Architect

The first day of NFD5, we visited Cisco, where John McDowall talked with us about onePK. onePK is a Software Development Kit (SDK) that allows developers to build software that can programmatically control and configure Cisco network devices. Customers want to the same control of the network that they have with compute and storage. Three languages are currently supported: C, Java, and Python.

[Note: I’ve noticed that Python is gaining a lot of acceptance in the SDN community and is why I recommended in The Virtual Network Instance that network people who are interested in SDN should learn the basics of Python programming.]

I find it interesting that Cisco is developing two APIs: the native onePK interface that exposes all the configuration parameters that IOS currently supports, as well as an OpenFlow interface. I didn’t hear anything about specific applications that Cisco is building or any work that they are doing with regard to defining new network abstractions that can reduce the complexity of network configuration and operation. It would be nice to know what abstractions they think will work well.

The deployment of onePK applications is very flexible, using any of three models:

1) Process hosting mode, in which the app runs in the network element;

2) Blade hosting mode, where the app runs on a blade within the network element;

3) End node hosting mode, where the app runs in a compute node.

(See more details about the deployment model on the Cisco Blog.)

This flexibility should allow the development of a distributed app that runs in both the network element and in an end node. The end node part of the app would have a global view of the network while the network element part of the app performs local processing.  The local processing component provide fast response while the centralized component provides better optimization over the entire network. There was a Puppet+onePK example that worked as a centralized/distributed application. Cisco is building design guides for using onePK, which will help people get started.

There are a couple of interesting features that I’ve not yet seen in any of the OpenFlow documentation yet (they may exist and I’ve not seen them yet). One function is to detect the version of onePK in use. This is critical in networks where there will eventually be multiple versions of onePK deployed. Programmatically learning the capabilities of a network device is going to be critical to properly configuring it. The second thing is that when a network element needs to forward a packet to the controller, it attaches meta-data to the forwarded packet. The meta-data is used to multiplex the packet to the right onePK application, much like TCP port numbers do for network connections. I need to learn how OpenFlow performs these functions.

The onePK team is very focused on security. Applications must be signed in order for the onePK system to run them. Applications can be signed by a known vendor or self-signed by an organization. We didn’t hear details on how this system works and whether it applies to the OpenFlow interface as well as the onePK native interface.

onePK is a free software upgrade to existing platforms. Cisco plans to have 90% of their platforms supported by the end of 2013 and there is already support for many of the smaller switches. I looked at the onePK web site and it looks like you have to join the Cisco Developer Network in order to get access to the documentation and to download the software.

My take on onePK is that it provides access to the full functionality of IOS. In contrast, OpenFlow is based on a minimalist philosophy of providing the few critical functions that are required. Getting started with either one is still a good idea. As Cisco’s customers have stated, we need to have compute, storage, and network treated similarly, so that as workloads move, the network easily adapts.


The vendors for NFD 5 are paying my travel expenses and providing small gift items.


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Nick Kelly

Cybersecurity Engineer, Cisco

Nick has over 20 years of experience in Security Operations and Security Sales. He is an avid student of cybersecurity and regularly engages with the Infosec community at events like BSides, RVASec, Derbycon and more. The son of an FBI forensics director, Nick holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is one of Cisco’s Fire Jumper Elite members. When he’s not working, he writes cyberpunk and punches aliens on his Playstation.


Virgilio “BONG” dela Cruz Jr.

CCDP, CCNA V, CCNP, Cisco IPS Express Security for AM/EE
Field Solutions Architect, Tech Data

Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.


John Cavanaugh

CCIE #1066, CCDE #20070002, CCAr
Chief Technology Officer, Practice Lead Security Services, NetCraftsmen

John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services.  Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.

He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.