First Thoughts on Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure

The much anticipated Cisco ACI launch occurred today in the venerable Waldorf Astoria in NYC, just as John Chambers had predicted a little over a month ago at the Interop conference keynote. This launch was centered on the solutions created by the Insieme team (officially part of Cisco as of today).

Author(s): Bob Laliberte

Published: November 6, 2013

The much anticipated Cisco ACI launch occurred today in the venerable Waldorf Astoria in NYC, just as John Chambers had predicted a little over a month ago at the Interop conference keynote. This launch was centered on the solutions created by the Insieme team (officially part of Cisco as of today). 

My take is that this is a seminal moment for Cisco.  Previous Cisco spin-ins have been successful in transforming industries (consider the Nuova spin in and UCS becoming the #2 blade server and inspiration for “Service Profiles”).  If the Insieme concepts of ACI and “Application Profiles” become as widely adopted as the UCS has, Cisco could play a significant role in simplifying IT management and automation. These advances in turn could help to dramatically lower the total cost of ownership for IT.

Remember how UCS service profiles let you automatically move configurations and security policies automatically when you move a VM?  The vision for ACI is to provide a centralized application policy controller that separates the policy from the underlying IP infrastructure. This allows applications to quickly scale within a data center or across multiple data centers or hybrid cloud environments and retain all the services, security, and performance levels required. Cisco claims this Application Policy Infrastructure controller will dramatically improve collaboration across IT domains, including application, server, security, and storage. Another key component is the ability to have complete visibility into the virtual and physical world, with Cisco claiming that when leveraging ACI, there is no need to pay a “network virtualization overlay tax” – their words not mine, but clearly the battle lines have been drawn. In one customer example provided, Cisco illustrated a 75% savings with ACI--clearly those numbers will need to be validated once the solution is rolled out, but those are compelling numbers that will make organizations take notice.

Some of the really cool things I heard came from Cisco’s ACI partner ecosystem. Brad Anderson talked about Microsoft applications being shipped with ACI application policies (future, not today) which is really cool when you think about it. The application will tell the network (and eventually the storage and server) what its requirements are when it is loaded. Jay Kidd from NetApp brought up the concept of ONTAP being an ACI endpoint--again, some really interesting concepts The partner ecosystem included major players in the IT space: Citrix, EMC, F5, IBM, Microsoft NetApp, RedHat, SAP, Symantec, and VCE. A big part of ACI will be the deep integration of these (and I am sure others in the future) technologies with the Controller.

Clearly there was way too much to cover in a short period of time it will take a little while to fully understand all the implications of this announcement. These are just my initial thoughts after listening for a couple of hours. It is important to keep in mind that it may take a while to see the entire vision fulfilled.  Today, Cisco announced the Nexus 9000 product line that can be deployed as a standalone switch today and upgraded to accommodate the ACI controller when it is available next year. The idea today is to get the foundational element deployed and trust that Cisco will continue to execute on its vision for ACI (which is a pretty good bet given their track record with the UCS).

Expect to hear more about the concept and details of ACI in the coming months, including more about how the partner ecosystem will enable ACI as well.

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ESG Senior Analyst Bob Laliberte focuses on data center networking technologies and management software. He is particularly involved in tracking issues related to data center networking discontinuity, software-defined networks, and network optimization. An expert in data center management and services, Bob shares straightforward and thought-provoking insights that have made him a popular resource for IT vendors and the media alike. He is often quoted in publications such as PCWorld and Network Computing.

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