Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure Explained

Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure Explained
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Cisco has announced a new vision for what it calls Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), designed to make data centre management and cloud application deployment easier. What does that mean in practice for IT pros?

Like any cloud-related announcement, there’s lots of non-specific hype about the future of IT to go with the ACI vision. Here’s Cisco CEO John Chambers waxing lyrical in a blog post:

Our customers love the fact that ACI is a silo buster. ACI gives every administrator, whether they are focused on networking, security, storage, platforms or network services, the same view and the same single point of management for the whole IT infrastructure. Crucially, this single point of management extends to both physical and virtual networks.

The announcement press release does eventually get down to brass tacks:

ACI is comprised of the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), the Nexus 9000 portfolio, and enhanced versions of the NX-OS operating system.

In essence, Cisco’s argument is that effective network virtualisation requires carefully designed hardware, rather than a software-centric approach. It claims adding hardware delivers cost savings of up to 75 per cent compared to the software-only approach, although clearly that figure will vary widely for individual businesses. Given that hardware still makes up a good proportion of Cisco’s revenue, this is an understandable argument from a commercial perspective, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely without merit.

Promoting the use of custom-designed hardware also ensures Cisco’s brand relevance as external cloud providers become more prevalent. One major argument for using cloud services is to eliminate the need for IT management on premises. If, however, you’re relying on everything being delivered over that network, its actual performance becomes even more important.

One of the more appealing elements of the ACI vision is Cisco’s acknowledgement that it will need to partner with other vendors. Network policy management for VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V and RedHat KVM is handled automatically. It has also partnered with a wide range of providers, including Microsoft, IBM, EMC, CA, Symantec, Red Hat, F5 and Splunk, to integrate their products into the ACI “framework”.