Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, said he views ACI as one of the most comprehensive SDN strategies on the market today and agreed with Cisco's focus on moving beyond the overlay concept.
"Let's say VMware gets their way, and then you have every department in the enterprise able to create its own network virtual overlay," Kerravala said. "If there's a problem, how do you even go about troubleshooting that? Your network operations team has no visibility into what's really going on. It winds up like a ships-in-the-night scenario."
In response to these overlay limitations, Cisco and Insieme introduced ACI, a new fabric-based data center architecture.
Cisco said ACI, like many of the SDN technologies already on the market, allows networks to be more programmable and open but differentiates itself by placing applications at the heart of a user's infrastructure policies. In other words, ACI aims to make the data center dynamically respond to the needs of applications, rather than the other way around.
Supporting ACI are hardware components including merchant silicon and custom ASICs from Insieme, along with Cisco's new Nexus 9000 line. Another component of ACI is the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), which Cisco says provides a unified point of automation and management for the underlying ACI data center fabric.
Cisco called the new Nexus 9000 Series, which offers modular and fixed 1/10/40 Gigabit Ethernet switch configurations, the "foundational building block" for ACI. The new Nexus 9000 family runs an optimized version of Cisco's NX-OS operating system that enables zero-touch operations and what Cisco calls a new "ACI mode" that introduces the capabilities of the APIC controller.
The Cisco Nexus 9000 switch family includes the Nexus 9508, an 8-slot, compact 13 RU end-of-row switch optimized for 10/40GbE deployments; the Nexus 9300 fixed top-of-rack switches; the Nexus 9396PX, a 960G switch with 48 fixed 10GE ports; and the Nexus 93128TX, a 1.28T switch.
Cisco said it expects to extend the Nexus 9000 family in the first half of 2014 to include a four- and 16-slot system, as well as additional top-of-rack switches.
According to Cisco, ACI delivers a 75 percent total-cost-of-ownership saving compared to software-only overlays by eliminating what it called a "per VM tax" and reducing power and cooling costs by as much as 15 percent.
Other benefits of ACI, Cisco said, include slashing application deployment times from "months to minutes," along with centralized policy management of application, network, security, virtualization, compute and storage components. ACI also leverages open APIS to enable integration with existing network automation tools, and it can work alongside Microsoft Hyper-V, Red Hat KVM, VMware vSphere and other virtualization platforms.
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