• 12/16/2013
    11:06 AM
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Cisco ACI: Proceed At Your Peril

Cisco new SDN platform -- despite some positive features -- is confusing, unproven, and burdened with Cisco's complicated past.

Cisco's recently announced ACI strategy is going to be tough to sell to customers. It's confusing and only one of several Cisco SDN strategies, and it doesn't ship until mid-2014 at the earliest. In the meantime, other SDN vendors are shipping real products and customers are using them. The challenges Cisco ACI has to overcome, combined with the company's sad history of failed software projects, will make many customers think twice.

In a previous article, I looked at the features and functions of Cisco ACI, and explained all the benefits that ACI brings to the table. This article examines the challenges and weakness in the Cisco's ACI SDN strategy.

A few weeks have passed since ACI's launch, and I've had time to take a more critical look at the details. The most interesting comment I've heard was that ACI is "entirely predictable and lacks leadership." 

Read the rest of this article on Network Computing.


Downside of Cisco ACI

Greg makes some very valid points in this piece, but I can certainly see customers feeling more comfortable venturing into SDN with a familiar vendor. Anyone have a different opinion?

Re: Downside of Cisco ACI


I think that's the one thing Cisco has going in its favor with ACI. It's not that it's hands down the best solution out there but, as they say, nobody ever got fired for buying IBMCisco. The value of being the incumbent (and thus default) vendor in many environments gives Cisco a position that most others must envy, as they're not fighting to get in the door and have their message heard. In many ways, VMWare is in the same position with their NSX product, being one of the dominant virtualization vendors and having strong presence in many compute shops. And that makes me think, if you can get a trial license for NSX or something like that, you could venture into SDN and experiment in your environment with no additional investment required. It's a lot harder when the hardware-based solution to SDN requires multiple, presumably expensive, devices in order to try it out effectively. Perhaps that will lead to early adopters going for a software-based solution like NSX rather than jumping in with the hardware req. Assuming, that is, that VMWare doesn't implement an SDNTax...


An Hour and a Half

90 minutes to explain the product and strategy? That's way too long. No one is going to buy an overly complex product like that. You can't buy something that you don't understand. I commend Cisco for getting in early on this and cannibalizing their other businesses a bit, but obviously they have some work to do with their marketing folks to make sense of this. 

Re: An Hour and a Half

Daniel, I am with you on that one. What's also ironic is that Greg describes the briefing as a "strategy containing few details and an incomplete product announcement." One is unsure if Cisco is simply trying to "be everything to everyone" and cover all the bases before it actually has a product ready for shipping, or perhaps the company is confused itself.

Re: An Hour and a Half

@Susan: "What's also ironic is that Greg describes the briefing as a "strategy containing few details and an incomplete product announcement."


I was at the launch in NYC, and I would have to agree with Greg's analysis. The presentation left me, at least, with far more questions than it answered. In particular, it was lacking in the kind of technical and implementation details that make me more comfortable with the solution as a whole. It was, perhaps, a little bit "black box" for my liking, and requires that you simple trust that the black box does everything it's claimed to do, as well as it's claimed to do it.

If you want to some read more of my concerns after the launch, I whined a little about some of the nagging questions i had about ACI on my blog, which you can read if you're interested (I'll spare you by not regurgitating it all here). My conclusion in part was that Cisco felt it was more critical to sell the idea of ACI and why hardware support is so important to make that work, rather than trying to sell the actual implementation of that idea. I guess if you're trying to convince the marketplace and your investors that you are viable in this space, selling your vision is perhaps the right approach - but it leaves anybody technical wondering why there are so many holes in the story.

Re: An Hour and a Half

@jg, thanks so much for your response. I tracked down your blog and found it very enlightening. You really explained the uncertainty facing Cisco customers, especialy when to comes to which switch models may or may not support ACI moving forward.Would you  still advocate a wait-and-see approach, or are there any other ways networking folks could start experimenting with SDN? 

Re: An Hour and a Half

Sorry you had to track the blog down; I added an embedded link in my original post but I guess it was stripped somehow. The link, in case anybody else wanted it, is here:





Re: An Hour and a Half

No worries, the links seem to flake out occasionally. Thanks for including it below. I didn't have to look that hard -- I have read the Lame Journal before :)

Re: An Hour and a Half

@danielcawry: "90 minutes to explain the product and strategy? That's way too long. No one is going to buy an overly complex product like that."

Not exactly an elevator pitch is it? Worse, as I said in my previous comment, it didn't even do a particularly good job of explaining the product, at least not beyond the initial 10GbE switch that they launched (bearing in mind that ACI-enabled products are not yet available). Explaining in more detail would no doubt have taken many more hours. There were a number of partners displaying their wares and support for ACI afterwards, but as Greg says, some of those are also signed up with VMWare so are not favoring either solution, but rather want to be available whichever way you choose to go. I'm not sure if that displays supreme confidence in the solution or if it simply indicates that until there's a shipping product it's hard to pin your product's future on a future platform.