Data centers

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Greg Ferro
Greg Ferro
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Cisco ACI Solves All Your Data Center Network Problems

Cisco launches its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), bringing open overlay networking and SDN to the entire data center.

Cisco claims that over time, support for ACI will extend to most of the current products produced by the partners pictured in the image above. That will require APIC support to be added to each version of code for each device, however, and that will takes months or even years to accomplish. Until Cisco leadership commits all business units publicly to this strategy, I remain somewhat cautious to endorse this eventuality.

Physical and Virtual Networking

The most important element of the Cisco ACI strategy is that it creates an overlay network that is independent of the network endpoint. ACI works for businesses that want to simply automate "ports and VLANs" or that want to build a simple multi-tenant LAN system to replace complex MPLS networks. It also works for systems that use fully automated flow management and offers support for OpenStack, Hyper-V and appliance-based network services like firewalls, network taps, intrusion detection and load balancers.

For many companies, their ITIL-derived business processes make it impossible to transform their organizations and move to fully virtualized network capability. This degree of structural change breaks the foundation of ITIL modeling by transgressing service boundaries. It will take some time for customers to abandon entrenched ITIL structures that clearly will not work in this system.


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One big benefit of ACI, according to Cisco, is that its integrated hardware/software model will be significantly cheaper than the software-only model. This claim is based on the entire solution, not just capital costs. Because APIC is a tool for managing the entire data center at large, TCO can be drastically reduced, says Cisco.


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This is a large and multi-faceted product announcement, and this article discusses a few of the important areas. There are many other topics for each customer to evaluate against their own needs. Many customers will decide to remain with the Catalyst 6800 in a tree-based network, or opt for low-cost Layer 3 ECMP solutions using the Nexus 6000. Others will choose the Nexus 7000 to access FEX and FabricPath to deliver large Layer 2 Ethernet domains.

For customers who are considering SDN for their data centers, the Cisco ACI strategy will be arriving sometime in late 2014. That's just about enough time to get planning and budgeting -- if you hurry.

Greg has nearly 30 years of experience as an IT infrastructure engineer and has been focused on data networking for about 20, including 12 years as Cisco CCIE. He has worked in Asia and Europe as a network engineer and architect for a wide range of large and small firms in ... View Full Bio
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