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What You Need To Know About Cisco’s New Application-Centric Infrastructure

Servers, Storage and Networking | Posted on November 8, 2013 by Emily A. Davidson

On November 6th 2013, Cisco announced their vision for the ultimate data center – the Cisco Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI). The Cisco ACI combines their Unified Computing System (UCS) offering with an application-aware network policy model built around open APIs. This vision advances the concept of a ‘software-defined’ data center.

The open set of APIs included with this release enable 20+ partners like EMC, Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Symantec, F5, IBM, RedHat, VCE and more, to rally behind this new capability and integrate ACI to support a myriad of applications much faster.

The Cisco team at Softchoice huddled as soon as the announcement was made to provide you with the most relevant details. Read on and get up to speed on ACI!

What is Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI)?

Powered by Cisco’s acquisition of Insieme networks, an ACI leverages network intelligence to automatically adjust for optimal application routing. According to Cisco, “Because all application traffic is already going through the router, adding capabilities to enable IT to optimize, control and manage applications is a more streamlined solution.” Compare this to the additional devices and upgrades typically required to support a network routing traffic driven from hefty business applications.

Cisco has put together this overview video to describe the ACI framework:

How it’s different than Software-Defined Networking

Cisco’s ACI is comparable to VMware’s NSX. As VMware continues to push their vision for Software-Defined Networking (SDN), they believe that networks are a barrier to application performance since so much of a network is tied down to hardware; so network virtualization using NSX is the answer.

With Cisco’s ACI, they are leveraging the router at the WAN aggregation point to improve application routing services. They believe that network intelligence improves IT’s ability to monitor and troubleshoot lagging applications.

In short, it plays out like application-aware networks (ACI) vs. network-aware applications (SDN). Author’s note: Have I used enough acronyms yet? Let me know in the comments below.

How does one “buy” ACI?

First, you can buy an updated version of Cisco’s Nexus 9000 family of routers with a new ACI operating system. The new Nexus 9000 switch can run either Cisco-native silicon or third-party chips that supply any number of standard SDN APIs (including OpenFlow).

Then, Cisco plans to roll out its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller in 2014. This solution sends rich application-level information from the network to third-party network performance management tools and allows clients to integrate application routing services. In short, the application policy controller defines service levels and access privileges for applications using the network hardware.

Get a more technical look from Network World.

Who ACI is for

This announcement will have a significant impact on the purchasing decisions of the data center market. The vision of SDN now has a very capable solution to compete with in ACI.

For mid-market clients without sophisticated application infrastructure needs, this won’t be an immediate consideration for their network roadmaps. However, mid-market clients should be aware of this differentiated approach. Basically, if you’re a mid-market client, you always want to consider (or prep for) such streamlined solutions when making future purchasing decisions.

High-end mid-market and enterprise clients, with a sizeable data center, will experience the most immediate impact as the key target for Cisco’s Nexus 9000. According to Cisco’s Nexus 9000 white paper, the Nexus 9000 offers better 1/10GbE port density, 40G uplinks, wire speed performance, competitive price points and no need to re-cable for either 1 or 10GbE. This capability challenges the wisdom of keeping the Catalyst 6500 in the data center. In short, Catalyst 6500 data center clients will be offered the opportunity to upgrade depreciated equipment to a 1/10G access switch without the need to re-wire, which is a significant cost benefit.

Why we like it

When applications are down, your IT team doesn’t stop until they are up and running again, and an Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) solution removes a lot of complexity from trouble shooting application performance. This strategy creates an overlay network independent of the network endpoint, offering centralized management capabilities that reduce the time it takes to troubleshoot and manage big business applications. Cisco CEO John Chambers states, “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.” Taking the complex and making it simple? We like that.

What you should do today

Whether you’re a large enterprise with a sizeable data center or a mid-market business with critical applications, all you really need to do is take this information in stride while you take stock of your network roadmap. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for making decisions and you want to understand what this looks like as a current offering and how it could impact your future networking decisions.

To learn even more, leverage Softchoice expertise through one of our holistic networking assessments, or by making an appointment with one of our dedicated Cisco experts. As a Gold Cisco partner, we also have access to expert resources at Cisco to provide you with an even more detailed roadmap or perhaps an opportunity to take a close look at these new capabilities at a technology briefing center.

What do you think about Cisco’s vision for the future of data centers? Sound of with your comments or questions below. Our Cisco team is standing by respond.

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