Cisco Touts Progress With ACI Software-Defined Networking, Says Plans Are Right On Track

Cisco Systems says its horse in the software-defined networking market, called Application Centric Infrastructure, is rounding into form exactly as it expected.

Cisco started selling its Nexus 9000 series switches just over a year ago and now has more than 1,000 customers, Chuck Robbins, senior vice president of worldwide field operations at Cisco, said Wednesday at the vendor's Global Editors Conference in San Jose, Calif.

That's a big jump from May, when Cisco said it had 175 Nexus 9000 customers.

Cisco's APIC controller, which handles management and automation of ACI networks, started shipping in July and now has more than 200 customers deploying it in their environments, Robbins said.

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Add in the 30 plus ecosystem partners that Cisco says have signed up to be part of the ACI ecosystem, and the San Jose, Calif.-based vendor can now point to some considerable momentum in the SDN space.

"We think we're exactly where we'd thought we'd be relative to the ramp of this technology," Robbins said at the conference.

[Related: Cisco Explains How Intercloud Will Make Life Easier For Customers]

One key strength of ACI is that it's built for the sort of heterogeneous environments that are commonplace in the enterprise today, Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of marketing for Cisco's Insieme business unit, said in a presentation at the conference.

Around half of Cisco customers are currently running multiple hypervisors, and Linux containers and big data are also seeing growing adoption in enterprises. All of these different trends, and the speed with which they're happening, show why the network needs to be virtualized, according to Jiandani.

ACI lets customers manage and automate whatever model they choose, whether it's DevOps, or existing enterprise management tools, or OpenStack orchestration, she said.

Cisco is also using ACI in a private cloud it runs internally, which lets different teams access a portal, decide what infrastructure they want and get it deployed quickly, John Manville, senior vice president of Cisco's global IT infrastructure team, said at the event.

Cisco has two data centers running production apps on top of ACI, and this weekend one node on its internal private cloud will be switched to run on top of ACI, Manville said.

ACI is helping Cisco deal with challenges like migrating apps and services with minimal downtime, implementing configurations and policies, and ensuring a high level of security, according to Manville.

Cisco is locked in a pitched battle with VMware in the SDN space, and it now has numbers to back up its claims that ACI will ultimately be the technology of choice for large enterprise customers. VMware, which sells a software-only version of SDN called NSX, was first to market.

While the Cisco-VMware battle is getting testy, many industry watchers believe there will be enough room for both vendors in a market that IDC expects to be worth $3.7 billion by 2016.